Do you remember 2017, when Game of Thrones Season 7 was airing? It was right around Episode 5 or 6, where Arya was threatening a visibly distraught Sansa for not immediately murdering the Northern Lords expressing their discontent about Jon leaving Winterfell. At the time, there was a lot of talk about how there was so clearly a payoff that was coming; that we should trust the showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D), because obviously Sansa and Arya were all doing this for Littlefinger’s benefit.
I knew better, but not in any kind of hipster way. Simply, I knew better because I have been heavily analyzing D&D’s writing since Season 5, and have noticed patterns in the tropes they use. Womenfolk? They be catty. Arya was antagonistic to Sansa just because she legitimately didn’t trust her, and according to the scripts, D&D felt she had a point too.
The framing made this clear too, even if the content of what was actually happening seemed to favor Sansa as the rational and sympathetic actor.
So imagine my chagrin to find us back here, two years later, with the same remarks in the fandom. That we’re sure this new Dany/Sansa rivalry will have a “payoff.” That D&D are clearly framing Sansa in the right, since even Arya is on her side.
I’ll admit, even though I know we’re only one episode in, I am struggling with what I think D&D are going for in the framing of the situation. It doesn’t help that their own words on the matter are nearly incomprehensible.
“When you’re doing something good for people and you get met with what Sansa gives [Dany] when they meet in the courtyard, it’s understandable that she would be upset” —Dan Weiss, Inside the Episode “Winterfell”
I think they believe (the royal “they” including writers Dave Hill and Bryan Cogman) that there is a legitimate tension here with two valid points being raised on either side. It’s “understandable” Dany is upset, naturally. But what I’m struggling with is…what the hell does she possibly have to be upset about?
Let’s review Sansa’s heinous actions:
- When she was introduced to Dany, Dany said something vacuous but pleasant like, “The North is pretty and so are you.” Sansa responded with “Winterfell is yours, Your Grace.”
- When the Northern Lords were yelling at Jon and Tyrion tried to ease the situation by explaining how they have a great army, Sansa asked about provisions for everyone on their strict winter rations.
That’s all that was observable to Dany. There was also a moment where Sansa pointed out to Jon that in kneeling, he upset some Northern Lords, as evidenced by Lord Glover staying put at Deepwood Motte with his troops. Jon pouted that Sansa was wrong for caring about titles with the approaching army of the dead.
Jon is…very one-track minded, and not the sharpest tool in the shed either. Heck, even David Benioff called him slow on uptake in the Inside the Episode. He’s not wrong that the existential threat to humanity should matter more than petty titles. But he’s also pretty silly for thinking there’s no such thing as political pragmatism, and that he can just immediately ignore long-standing societal conventions that have literally held the whole feudal order together. But that’s neither here nor there; Sansa seems to be operating on a different playing field than him, and holy god was it nice to hear Arya call her smart to Jon’s face. At least the script recognizes this to some extent.
That still leaves us with the issue of Dany feeling super disrespected. Was it because Sansa didn’t call her pretty too? Jon kneeling meant that Dany get a whole other kingdom to her cause, and he told her at the time that the Northern Lords might not be too keen. That was the whole point of their plan to arrive together. Sansa, the Lady of Winterfell—a legal title, mind you—said exactly what she was supposed to do in this situation. She recognized Dany as their rightful queen, and said Winterfell was hers. This is a huge level of political legitimacy, especially since Jon as a kneeled king is not a Lord or anyone that commands power at this point.
I guess she should have complimented the coat.
Then we have that lovely exchange about meat stores.
Sansa: May I ask, how are we meant to feed the greatest army the world has ever seen? While I ensured our stores would last through winter, I didn’t account for Dothraki, Unsullied, and two full-grown dragons. What do dragons eat, anyway?
Dany: Whatever they want.
You have to understand, the way it was shot, Dany’s line sounded like it could have been a threat directly against Sansa’s person. At the least, it was Dany basically saying that she did not give a shit that her dragons would require 20 sheep and 13 goats each day, or whatever it was Drogon and Rhaegal ate on their light diet. These are rather crucial provisions for winter, mind you.
Then cue Dany and Jon having a meltdown for the rest of the episode, because Sansa is just so mean!
Don’t get me wrong; the cameras tried to frame this as petty cattiness. It was not even remotely subtle:
And there’s actually a lot of articles today, asking if we should be mad about this rivalry. My question is truly this: what rivalry? What did Sansa do, other than ask something incredibly obvious? According to Dany later, Sansa owed her a respect that she felt she did not receive. But again, how? The only thing that transpired was a question about feeding the massive amounts of people who just showed up.
No one ever answered that, by the way.
I don’t know why it bothers me so much, to be honest. I’m glad people are calling out two women being unnecessarily hostile as cheap and tired writing. It’s just that I’m not even seeing Sansa as a hostile actor here, and I can’t help but think a viewer would need to go into this with a pretty set lens already to come away with that impression.
In fact, she was pretty dang pleasant, when you consider the fact that she had to swallow Jon’s decision to kneel away Northern independence, and balance both his ego, the newly arrived party, and the still flustered Northern Lords. Sansa was a cool head with one reasonable concern that she dared voice. And yet somehow, I don’t get the impression that we’re supposed to think Dany and Jon were being unreasonable.
Obviously we will have to wait and see how this masterpiece plays out. But forgive me for not holding out hope here. Because apparently we have a good ol’ rivalry on our hands, and if only Sansa had stopped herself from thinking about her feudal obligations, or had been jumping up and down and seal clapping when she first met Dany. Why do women always have to be so petty, right?