When Game of Thrones began, no one expected the spoiled, eldest Stark daughter to become one of the show's most beloved characters. But the way showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff slowly built Sansa (Sophie Turner) up into a mini Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) over the course of five seasons was a master class in character development. And then "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" happened, where Sansa was sexually assaulted by Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) in one of television's most controversial sexual assault scenes.
After that last bait-and-switch, Game of Thrones has no room for error with Sansa going forward. If they build her up only to tear her down once more, the fan reaction will be swift; and it won't be kind. This is not only because viewers are tired of seeing assault lazily used to demean women and redeem men, but because it's far passed time the show does right by Sansa. Keep reading below the spoiler warning for how Game of Thrones can accomplish this in Season 6.
Sansa has had a rough go of it, possibly worse than any other character on Game of Thrones (and that's saying a lot). But this season will potentially see the loneliest Stark reunited with her family for the first time since Season 1.
In Sunday's (May 1) episode, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) will finally reveal to Sansa that Arya (Maisie Williams) is alive, and hopefully set out to bring her home. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) could potentially return south of the Wall in order to rally troops to face the White Walkers. House Umber will appear this season, which is where Rickon was heading last we saw in Season 3. And Sansa is currently on her way north to the Wall, where her (currently) dead brother Jon (Kit Harington) lies awaiting his inevitable resurrection.
That's a lot of Starks potentially returning to Westeros and reuniting, which is a good sign of things to come. Recent seasons have suffered from the lack of interactions between our major characters, who have been scattered around the world for far too long. However, with so many (male) Starks potentially coming back into play in the patriarchal world of Westerosi politics, there's the unfortunate chance Sansa's rise to leadership be cut short.
If anyone bothers to check former King in the North Robb's (Richard Madden) will, and if it's revealed that Jon really is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, the former bastard of Winterfell would become both an heir to the North and to the Iron Throne. But we've all seen how well Jon's leadership went before (spoiler alert: not great), so maybe it's time to let someone else lead; someone who actually understands how politics work, who has proven diplomatic skills and a killer poker face.
What I'm trying to say is, let Sansa be Queen of the North, goddamnit!
More than any other character from any other house, Sansa has earned the right to lead. She's seen the system from every side, and come out stronger for it. And because of everything she's been through, Sansa's rise to the top will feel so much sweeter than Jon's ever could. His noble naivety has shades of Ned (Sean Bean), but Sansa's resolute determination is all Catelyn (Michelle Fairely). And in times of war, an unwavering devotion to honor isn't exactly what you need in a leader.
Yet more important than any title Sansa may hold is the people she's surrounded by. She's been living among enemies since the first season, with Littlefinger and Theon (Alfie Allen) as her only allies. She deserves so much more than the man who betrayed her family to get with her mother (that would be Littlefinger), and the man who betrayed her family to impress his father (that would be Theon). Even Ramsay had the ever-loyal Myranda and his hounds to keep him company!
The premiere finally saw Brienne and Sansa seal their loyalty to each other, but based on the trailers, we know the pair will be parting ways shortly. So while Brienne is off in the Riverlands, let Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) become Sansa's right-hand counsel. With Stannis (Stephen Dillane) gone, the Onion Knight needs a lord or lady to kneel to, and who better than Sansa, who shares Stannis' level-headed thinking — but lacks the hubris that was the wannabe king's ultimate downfall?
Trailers hint that this union might come to fruition, which indicates this season truly might become the Rise of Sansa. But that doesn't mean the show can ignore Sansa's previous falls.
Sansa's agency had been growing exponentially before it was cheaply undercut last season. However, pretending Sansa's sexual assault never happened would be a disservice to rape survivors, as would allowing it to define her. So rather than turn Sansa into yet another character barreling towards more calamity and bloodshed, let us take this season to bathe in the tragedies that have come before.
There was never a chance that the showrunners would follow George R.R. Martin's original story arc, which followed up the Red Wedding with two incredibly ruminative novels on the consequences of war; but viewers — such as myself — also never expected the psychological scars to be sidelined completely. The show loves to remind us how dark and full of terrors this world is through a carousel of deaths and sexual assault, but now Game of Thrones has an opportunity to double-down on emotional darkness, with Sansa.
According to Watchers on the Wall, Sansa will return to Winterfell this season accompanied by Jon and Littlefinger. There, she'll come face-to-face with her tormentor, Ramsay. It would be untrue to her character for Sansa not to experience trauma at facing Ramsay again, but this should not be an opportunity to revictimize her. Instead, this is a moment to show Sansa as a survivor and explore how she's been coping with everything she's endured at the Boltons' hands. And if she kicks Ramsay's a-- along the way, I don't think anyone would complain.
But don't let Sansa's vengeance stop at the Boltons. I want to see her bashing faces and curb-stomping the Freys, Lannisters and — most importantly — Littlefinger. Because while it appears that Sansa is the only living person Littlefinger cares about other than himself, he still abandoned her to marry Ramsay, spilled everything to Cersei and got her father executed for treason. I want Sansa to play Littlefinger the way he's played everyone else. And right when she no longer needs him, I want to see her push that weasel out the highest moon door she can find.
Whatever Game of Thrones does with Sansa this season, I just beg them not to go backwards. Put obstacles in her way, sure, but don't break her down any further. Let her be competent, clever and strong. Give her confidence and a stable of reliable allies. And for god's sake, just let her get some vengeance.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.