The Long, Winding & Triumphant Evolution Of Sansa Stark

The story of the two Stark sisters begins with familiar archetypes. Younger sister Arya rages against the system with sword skills and a grimace. We love her, because she is what we want to be: gutsy, bold, precocious.
The elder, Sansa, in embroidered dresses and elaborate hairstyles, does not scoff at the system. Rather, she's immediately enamored with the visiting prince. Quivering and eager, Sansa sees Joffrey as the next logical step for the privileged life she’s been prepared for. We roll our eyes at her juvenile yearnings for Prince Charmings and castles. Though we resent her reliance on tradition, she is what many of us are: entrenched.
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As well as being a fantastical game of Risk, Game of Thrones is a coming-of-age story. Over the seasons, we see a war strategist emerge from the cocoon of a spoiled teenage girl. The story of Sansa Stark is one of survival. Through following Sansa's journey, we see what may well have happened to us had the world we believed in fell apart quickly and gruesomely.
Here's every step of the Sansa Stark transformation.
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Sansa The Manic Pixie Preteen

It’s during the first few episodes of Game of Thrones that Sansa’s reputation as the Most Reviled Character In Westeros is cemented — quite unfairly, I might add. Sansa is a 13-year-old who, like many suburban teens, is twiddling her thumbs and waiting for something to happen. She lives with wolves and Wall Watchers. When the Lannister family arrives, something “interesting," at last, happens to Sansa Stark. And that something interesting is her sandy-haired prince Joffrey, whom she immediately wants to marry.

“Please make father say yes,” she begs her mother after she and Joffrey lock eyes like they're in a boy band music video. “It’s the only thing I ever wanted.”
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Sansa The Lovesick

The early days of Sansa and Joffrey’s romance look like something out of a middle schooler’s diary. He stares at her with piercing aquamarine eyes. She swoons at talk of their shared kingdom.

All of this lovesickness means that Sansa's judgment is severely clouded. When Joffrey and Arya start sword fighting, she yells at them to stop because they’re “spoiling everything.” As in, they’re spoiling her conception of her own future.

By the time her dire wolf Lady is sentenced to die, however, Sansa must recognize that the future — whatever it will hold — is certainly not what she imagined.
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Sansa The Terrible Teenager

Feeling guilty because he had to execute her dire wolf, Ned gives Sansa a doll from Princess Myrcella’s special dollmaker. Sansa sneers and says she hasn’t played with a doll since she was 8. Ned then remarks that, “War is easier than daughters.” Later on, after Ned dies, Sansa looks at her doll mournfully.

Ned’s not the only victim of Sansa’s reign of sassy terror. She tells Septa Mordane — who will later sacrifice her life to give Sansa time to escape — to “please shut up” about Joffrey. At another point, she asks Septa Mordane about her past, and then says, "Oh wait. I just realized. I don't care."

But honestly: What teenager hasn’t been kind of a casual monster at some point?
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Sansa The Queasy

It’s baby’s first joust, and Ser Loras has just given her a rose, deeming her the most beautiful woman in the crowd. She buries her head into her father’s shoulder because she “can’t watch” Ser Loras fight. Considering the brutal violence she’ll see — and coordinate! — later on, her reaction is almost cute.
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Sansa The Stylish

In an effort to adapt to King's Landing fashion standards, Sansa changes her hairstyle to match Queen Cersei’s ‘do. Mordane chides that she doesn’t think her mother, Catelyn, would like her new styles. Sansa responds (because she’s nasty), “What do you care? Do you even have hair under there?”

Later, Joffrey comes bearing a necklace like his mother's, and a declaration of love. To summarize: He gives her a present and pledges his unending devotion. She accepts the necklace as proof he’s changed. So begins the start of every on-again, off-again relationship.

With that, Sansa's King's Landing get-up is complete.
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Sansa The Disillusioned

Just as (almost) everyone emerges from the cocoon of youth, Sansa Stark becomes disillusioned with her childhood dreams of happily ever after. But it’s not time that does the trick. It’s seeing her father’s head on a stick.

Joffrey takes Sansa her to see her murdered father. While standing at the gruesome vista, he promises that after he raises his army against her brother Robb, he’ll bring her Robb’s head, too.
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Sansa The Just Starting To Catch On

In season 2 of Game of Thrones, Sansa learns how to operate intelligently within her role as the madman’s fiancée.

During Joffrey’s name day celebrations, Sansa convinces him to spare Ser Dontos’ life and employ him as the court jester. Though it’s clear she hates him, she swears her loyalty to her "beloved Joffrey" to Tyrion.

Later on in the season, Tyrion intervenes when Joffrey is about to kill Sansa with a crossbow. Still, she responds to Tyrion with the same line as before: “I’m loyal to Joffrey, my one true love.” Sansa, as usual, isn’t rebelling against the system. But she’s also not complying with it.
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Sansa The Woman

After Sansa gets her period, and both she and her handmaiden, Shae, appropriately panic. The consequences of fertility are dire. She has to bear Joffrey's heir.

Now that she's deemed a “woman,” Cersei gives Sansa an abridged "birds and the bees" talk while holed up in the women's quarters during the siege. Cersei gives her the questionable advice: “Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon. The best one’s between your legs. Learn to use it.” Where’s Catelyn when you need her?

After Joffrey calls off their engagement, Littlefinger points out another uncomfortable consequence of her fertility: She’s a “toy” to Joffrey. Littlefinger promises to get her free.
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Sansa The Girl’s Girl

Sansa and Lady Margaery's relationship has none of the tension one might expect from two women who were, at some point, engaged to the same man. Sansa openly tells Margaery that her husband-to-be is a monster.

In Margaery and Shae, her handmaid, Sansa finds what she needs above all: a friend. She's briefly back to day dreaming.
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Sansa The Unlucky In Love, Part 1

Margaery has promised Sansa another shot at love; this time, with Margaery's brother, Ser Loras. As you'll recall, Ser Loras isn’t interested in women at all. When Ser Loras describes his dream wedding to Sansa, he mentions the large crowd and the tournament, but says nothing of the bride.
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Sansa The Reluctant Bride

Sansa's marriage to the handsome and uninterested Ser Loras isn't to be. Due to Tywin Lannister's intervention, Sansa finds herself in the middle of an unlikely love triangle. Tyrion Lannister is having an affair with her handmaiden, Shae. But Tywin Lannister forces Tyrion and Sansa to be wed. Neither party is pleased: Tyrion thinks Sansa is a child; Sansa isn’t attracted to Tyrion as compared to Loras.

Margaery tells her to put things into perspective. He’s a Lannister, sure — but far from the worst. Sansa realizes that she has nothing to complain about to Margaery, who’s marrying the indisputable worst of the Lannisters.

Sansa and Tyrion never consummate their marriage.
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Sansa The Lone Stark

It gets worse. Soon into Tyrion and Sansa’s marriage, she discovers news of her mother and brother's slaughter. However shocked we were, the news was worse for Sansa.

At Joffrey’s wedding, Sansa watches a farcical reenactment of her family’s massacre at the Red Wedding with abject horror.
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Sansa, Littlefinger’s Apprentice

After Joffrey dies, Sansa is whisked away to even further danger: Petyr Baelish’s mind games. Every conversation is a game of sexually-charged chess, since unlike Tyrion, Petyr Baelish isn’t scared away by Sansa’s youth. He equates Sansa with her mother, Catelyn Stark, the love of his life.

It turns out, the little Stark can keep up with Littlefinger. After Littlefinger throws Lysa Arryn down the moon door, Sansa gives false testimony that saves Littlefinger’s life. She declares she knows exactly what Littlefinger wants, believing he intends to marry her.

Wearing a feathered black dress with a deep neckline, she and Littlefinger leave the Vale. She’s finally playing the game.
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Sansa The Unlucky In Love, Part 2

Turns out Littlefinger is still a step ahead of Sansa. The marriage proposal isn’t from him — it’s for Ramsay Bolton, the son of the man who killed her whole family. Baelish pacifies Sansa by telling her to, “Stop being a bystander. Stop running.” He paints this marriage as her chance to avenge her family.

Later on, Littlefinger leaves Sansa with some parting pre-marriage wisdom. “Even the most dangerous men can be outmaneuvered,” he says. “And you’ve learned from the best.”

Sansa endures horrors at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. She’s threatened with being fed to the dogs. She’s raped and held prisoner in her old home.
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Sansa The Theon Whisperer

Sansa decides to escape from Ramsay Bolton's house of horrors. If she’s going to die, she tells Myranda, who stands before her with a crossbow, she wants it to happen while there’s still some of her left. At that tense moment, Sansa unlocks the enduring spirit of Theon Greyjoy, still lurking within a battered Reek. Theon pushes Myranda from the rampart to her death. Then, the two escapees leap and run away from their old home.

Sansa links up with Brienne and Podrick and heads to Castle Black, where she reunites with Jon.
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Sansa The Adult

It’s the first Stark family reunion since season 1, and how times have changed. Hardened by her brutal experiences, Sansa looks back at her callous, selfish teenage self with remorse. She tells Jon, “I spent a lot of time thinking about what an ass I was to you. I wish I could change everything. I was awful.” He forgives her.

At the Wall, Sansa and Jon speak as equals.
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Sansa The Tough

One of the most significant moments in Sansa's evolution comes when she confronts Littlefinger.

After Littlefinger says he rode to come to her aid, Sansa incredulously says, "To come to my aid? Did you know about Ramsay? If you didn't know you're an idiot. If you did know, you're my enemy."

She coolly demands Littlefinger to answer the question, "What do you think he did to me?" Then, she describes the horror of Ramsay's abuse and says she never wants to see Littlefinger again.
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Sansa The Apt

Sansa's tragic life story can be summarized in this sentence, which she tells Littlefinger during their showdown.

"You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family, and you gave me to other monsters who murdered my family," she says.

Here, Sansa asserts herself and ceases the cycle of being passed from person to person.
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Sansa The Strategist

Sansa turns out to be an skillful strategist. Along with Jon and Ser Davos, she expertly navigates which families have remained loyal to the Starks throughout the tumult. When Ser Davos challenges her authority, she coolly replies, "How well do you know the North, Ser Davos?"

Even more significantly, her intervention wins the Battle of the Bastards. Despite cutting ties with Petyr Baelish earlier, she sends a raven asking for House Arryn to join the fight. Without Baelish's troops, Jon Snow never could have defeated Ramsay's army and taken back Winterfell.
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Sansa The Queen Of Revenge

After Jon Snow wins the Battle of the Bastards, Ramsay Bolton is taken into custody. Sansa's put in charge of his execution. She sets his once-loyal hungry dogs onto him, and walks away to the the tune of his slaughter.
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Sansa The Survivor

Now that we've recounted the tale of her transformation, can we give Sansa Stark a collective round of applause? Most of us emerge from adolescence with acne scars and embarrassing diary entries, not as warlords. We're looking forward to seeing what season 7 holds for Sansa.
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