When Game of Thrones first forced Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) into a marriage with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) in Season 3, it's no exaggeration to say that literally no one was shipping it. It wasn't that easy to get behind a couple that consisted of a 14-year-old hostage of war and the 33-year-old drunken uncle of the boy who regularly tortured her for giggles.
Recent events in Season 8, however, have forced us to reexamine the history between Sansa and Tyrion to determine how it could affect the ending of their stories in the series finale.
Though the Lannisters were responsible for killing almost all of Sansa's family, Tyrion was kind and respectful to Sansa over the course of their brief marriage. She recently called him "the best of them" — and the bar is low, to be sure, whether Sansa meant that Tyrion was the best of the Lannisters or the best of her own terrible string of husbands and fiancés. But Tyrion did try to make Sansa's life bearable during their short time together.
In a world steeped with men perpetrating violence (sexual and otherwise) against women, Tyrion and Sansa's relationship proved an exception. Before they were married, Tyrion protected Sansa from being beaten on Joffrey's (Jack Gleeson) orders and even offered to try to get her out of her engagement when he was Hand of the King. After she was forced to marry Tyrion, Sansa assumed she'd have to "do her duty" as his wife, but he promised never to share her bed until she asked — and she didn't. Tyrion, who was sleeping with the prostitute-turned-handmaiden Shae during his marriage to Sansa, was not without his faults. And we can't (and shouldn't) put him on a pedestal for simply being a decent human being to his child bride, but his decency in the midst of depravity did establish a degree of trust between them. Still, their age difference and Sansa's status as a hostage made it rightfully hard for fans to get behind them as a couple, and when she eventually escaped King's Landing and left Tyrion for dead, no one really batted an eye.
For the rest of the series, it seemed like their sham of a marriage was going to fade into obscurity, but recent events in Game of Thrones Season 8 have given us reason to reevaluate. In Episode 3, "The Long Night," the series not only reflected on Sansa and Tyrion's union but also implied that they might try to make things work between them before the season is out. As the Night King's army attacked Winterfell, Tyrion and Sansa had a frank discussion down in the crypts. Sansa forced Tyrion to face uncomfortable truths about himself, and Tyrion joked that they should have stayed married, though Sansa declared that it wouldn't have worked between them due to his loyalty to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). Later though, as the risen corpses in the Stark crypts attacked them, the two shared a silent but charged look, and Tyrion held Sansa's hand and kissed her gloved fingers as they faced down death together. So we have to ask ourselves... should Tyrion and Sansa actually give this marriage a second chance?
While there's no real love between Sansa and Tyrion, there's a certain degree of respect, and perhaps even fondness, that developed while they were unwillingly shackled to each other in earlier seasons. Now Sansa is a woman with the power to make her own choices rather than a girl being used as a pawn in the political machinations of others. If she did decide to uphold the marriage, it could serve as a powerful political alliance.
That's not exactly the stuff of fairy-tale romances, but then again, Game of Thrones eats fairy tales for breakfast. Plus, marrying for love alone would not jive very well with who Sansa has become. She's no longer that naive girl who wants poetry and the handsome princes on noble steeds from the songs of her childhood. Her illusions of living a romantic life have been dispelled, leaving a hardened but wise young woman in its wake. The woman Sansa has become wouldn't marry for love; she'd marry to strengthen alliances and help her people. Not to mention the fact that she knows Tyrion is a good man, and considering most of the men in her life have been either cruel or useless (or both), it's easy to understand why Tyrion could be an appealing partner for her.
It's also important to acknowledge that Sansa is a good match for Tyrion. Tyrion has always acknowledged that Sansa has a mind for politics, though perhaps not the experience to wield it properly in early seasons. Now, though, she's developed a keen tactical mind to complement her natural ability to manage others. One could even argue she'd be a worthy rival for Tyrion in a battle of wits. After all, she did manage to call him "the cleverest man alive," while also delivering the sickest of burns. From her cunning lies in the Vale to her last-minute save at the Battle of the Bastards, it's clear Sansa can hang with the heaviest of hitters in the so-called game that determines Westeros' fate, making her an ideal match for Tyrion.
Though Sansa thinks Tyrion's allegiance to Daenerys would become a problem between them — it would be difficult to have a wife dedicated to an independent North while serving a queen set on ruling the seven kingdoms — it's worth noting that Daenerys might not actually wind up on the throne when all is said and done. If Jon (Kit Harington) takes his rightful place as the Targaryen heir, it's not hard to imagine him granting the North its independence. Alternatively, it's also possible that the North would allow him to rule them since they chose him to be King in the North in the first place. If that's the case, Sansa and Tyrion uniting House Stark and House Lannister under Jon's rule would only strengthen his reign.
On the other hand, it's entirely possible that neither Jon nor Dany will end up ruling Westeros, even if they do defeat Cersei (Lena Headey), leaving the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms up for grabs. In that case, the most capable leaders would be Tyrion and Sansa. Putting Tyrion on the Iron Throne while Sansa rules as Queen in the North might work, but the blood feud between the Lannisters and the Starks won't just evaporate, especially if this massive war ends the exact same way it started — with a Lannister on the throne and a rebellious North refusing to bend the knee. In that case, much like in the English Wars of the Roses, which saw two powerful family branches warring over a throne, the most sensible decision could be to end the conflict by joining the two houses in marriage. Sure, the Tudor kings had their issues, but they were no longer slaughtering their cousins left and right. In that situation, upholding Tyrion and Sansa's original union could prove a peaceful way to end the series.
But could this actually happen? The narrative does seem to be forcing us to reexamine this relationship, which means something is likely going to happen there. In a season as short as Season 8, with so many storylines left to address and wrap up, every detail is significant. It just depends who's left standing at the end of it all.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
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