Entertainment

Why Sansa Holds the Key to Who Will Sit on the Iron Throne

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Sansa holds a suspicious summit. | HBO
Sansa holds a suspicious summit. | HBO
This post contains spoilers up through the fourth episode of Game of Thrones Season 8. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

What's Sansa Stark's endgame? As Game of Thrones heads into its final moments, Sansa has emerged as one of the most intriguing, most difficult to pin down characters in this entire saga. Last night's episode, "The Last of the Starks," solidifies her transformation from the timid "little bird" that entered King's Landing wanting to marry a prince into a savvy political mind, fiercely protective of her family's legacy. At the same time, there's a lingering sense that the show doesn't know what to do with Sansa when it's not putting her through hell.

Sansa quietly changed the balance of power this week when she decided to let Jon's big secret slip to Tyrion. With an assist from Bran, Jon confesses the truth about his parentage to Arya and Sansa -- the women he previously thought were his half-siblings but are actually his cousins. As they plead with him to reconsider his allegiance to Daenerys, they invoke their familial bonds. And despite the fact that Dany begged Jon not to reveal his lineage to anyone else, he cannot keep the "last of the Starks," as Ayra says, in the dark. Frustratingly, the camera cuts away before showing Arya and Sansa's reactions, but just a little while later, Sansa uses that information to her advantage.

Sansa's distrust of Daenerys has been her defining characteristic this season, and more and more it seems like she's being sold as the level-headed alternative to Daenerys' increasingly mad queen. Sansa's objections just make sense. She encourages Dany to allow the forces decimated at the Battle of Winterfell some time to rest before going after Cersei; Dany rejects that suggestion, and pays the price dearly.

Hanging with the Hound. | HBO

Sansa hates the blind faith put in Daenerys by the men she thought she respected, so when Tyrion staunchly defends his chosen queen, she decides to offer him another alternative, breaking the promise of secrecy she made to Jon. In a post-episode recap, showrunner D.B. Weiss framed this as a deft, strategic move. "She's a student of Littlefinger and she knows how information travels," he said. "She can think many steps ahead into the game the way Littlefinger did and knows if she tells Tyrion, it's almost impossible for Tyrion not to tell Varys."

Weiss' comment nods to a controversial piece of dialogue Sansa utters during the big celebration at Winterfell that opened this episode. She goes over to speak to The Hound, one of the few people who looked out for her at King's Landing. He reminds her he offered her the chance to escape during the battle of Blackwater, and tells her that none of the terrible things that befell her would have happened if she had just gone along with him. "Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life," she says, utilizing his nickname for her.

In a chorus of criticism that erupted, this line was used as an example of the many ways in which the episode failed its female characters: The steely Brienne of Tarth is reduced to a crying spurned lover, Daenerys has morphed into a monster hellbent on vengeance, and Sansa is thankful for her rapist. Given the show's terrible history with sexual abuse -- especially when it comes to Sansa -- that's an interpretation that makes complete sense. But in the morning light, a counterargument -- at least in regards to Sansa -- has arisen, which states that she's not in some sort of Stockholm Syndrome haze, but rather acknowledging that circumstances have forced her to evolve. But to what end?

Yes, the comment is perhaps unclear, but so are Sansa's motives. Even as she's solidified her place as one of the few characters truly worth an emotional investment, the series has barely allowed its audience to spend much time with her. This week she gave up some gossip that will undeniably impact the remainder of the narrative, but it's uncertain whether she herself will have any part to play in it. For now, she's remaining at Winterfell as the fight heads to Cersei, and she bemoans the fact that she won't be present for Cersei's execution. But will her revealing Jon's true parentage to Dany's advisors be enough for Sansa to dictate who sits on the Iron Throne?

s Game of Thrones speeds to its conclusion in these mere six episodes, Sansa's screen time has been both some of the most compelling and under-baked. If Benioff and Weiss are just envisioning her as the return of Littlefinger, that's disappointing. She deserves a grander plan, and there are just two episodes left for her to execute it.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.
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