It’s time to get real about Game of Thrones’ endgame and start accepting the fact that Sansa Stark is Westeros’ one true ruler. So far, Game of Thrones’ Season 8 has proven that everything Sansa endured and learned from those in power over the course of the series has sunk deep into her consciousness.
She’s already put that experience to good use, preparing Winterfell for battle and verbally sparring with Daenerys. Now that Dany’s Mad Queen transformation has presumably taken her out of the running, Sansa (and definitely not Jon Snow) is the obvious choice to take the Iron Throne.
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In some ways, it feels like Sansa has been training her entire life to become a ruler. Unlike other characters who have openly and ferociously gone after power (cough, cough Daenerys) or rejected power even when it was laid at their feet (lookin’ at you, Jon Snow), Sansa has always wanted power but has been cautious about the ways she pursued it.
Sansa spent her life studying the idea of power — how it works, how it’s won, who gets to have it, how it corrupts, and how to put it to good use. Power has never just been a status symbol for Sansa. She’s always known that ruling needs to be done both pragmatically and cautiously. In this way, Sansa transformed from a teenager dreaming of being the perfect queen (even to a terrible king) to a woman who understands how cruel the world really is.
Sansa was basically a prisoner of the Lannisters during the early Game of Thrones years. Cersei was her puppet master, sure, controlling and bending her into doing some very not-so-Stark-approved things — like telling your older brother in the Westerosi equivalent of a text that your dad is treasonous AF even though you know it’s not true.
But even as Sansa worked to fly under Cersei’s radar and stay off the chopping block, she studied Cersei, a woman who wielded her power through manipulation and suggestion by brokering deals in secret and giving men the safety of feeling like they’d come up with ideas even when they were her own. Cersei spent her whole life as a noblewoman and someone destined for greatness. If Sansa was going to learn from anyone, it sure as hell was going to be the best.
Cersei as a model for how to wield power as a woman was foundational for Sansa, whether she realized it at the time or not. It must have burrowed into her consciousness because by the time she linked up with the loathsome but very useful Littlefinger, Sansa already knew how to bend a man to her will without lifting a finger. She was able to suss out Littlefinger’s weakness early on (his love for her mother, Catelyn Stark, transposed onto Sansa) and exploit it.
Sansa also learned even more about how to move people around on the metaphorical chessboard so she could stay in control while influencing events in her favor. The art of a successful alliance was another key lesson she learned from Littlefinger, obtaining the trust of the Knights of the Vale offscreen and putting it to further good use when Jon Snow needed allies at the Battle of the Bastards.
As Lady of Winterfell, Sansa has finally found her voice — and she’s not afraid to use it. Unlike the mediocre white men who have stumbled into power but don’t know how to use it (sorry Jon, that’s you again and your homeboy Tyrion), Sansa isn’t afraid to speak up for herself and the people under her protection. She’s grown into a steady leader in Game of Thrones Seasons 7 and 8, always putting what’s best for her family, Winterfell, and the North above all else. She is pragmatic, detail-oriented, and forward-thinking.
Sansa’s interactions in Season 8, Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” help demonstrate her skill as a leader and her understanding of power. The first was her verbal confrontation with Daenerys over how to prepare for their battle with Cersei, the second came soon afterwards when she revealed Jon Snow’s true identity to Tyrion.
While preparing for the Battle of King’s Landing, two different styles of leadership presented themselves in the form of Sansa and Dany. Daenerys prefers using force to get things done, and was clearly eager to march on the capital. A little perturbed by this lack of empathy or concern for the well-being of the troops, Sansa implored the Mother of Dragons to give her soldiers time to recuperate from their recent battle against the Night King. A tired soldier is an ineffective soldier, and that would mean losses across the board for Dany.
It was the latest of their many sparring matches over the course of Season 8, and it reminded us that more than anyone else still alive on Game of Thrones, Sansa seems willing to consider all the facts before making a final decision, while everyone else in Westeros generally seems happy to just rush into battle.
At the same time, Sansa’s interaction with Tyrion in that same episode reminds us how much she learned from Littlefinger and her impressive powers of manipulation. By telling Tyrion about Jon’s true Targaryen identity, Sansa subtly pulled the strings. She likely knew Tyrion would immediately tell Varys, who would quickly turn against his queen. It’s possible Sansa even predicted Dany would go full Mad Queen and wanted to present an alternative to the Iron Throne in Jon. (C’mon, girl, embrace your own potential!)
Sansa’s never been a front-runner to for the throne, but she’s certainly the best candidate we have right now. Jon and Tyrion will likely do whatever needs to be done to keep Dany from assuming power now that she’s destroyed King’s Landing and targeted innocent civilians. But Jon’s also made it clear that he wants nothing, nada, zilch to do with the Iron Throne despite his many qualifications.
Sansa not only has the training and the experience to rule, but she has the opportunity, means, and support to lead a nation out of decades of tyranny and in-fighting, breaking the wheel of Westeros’ history for good.
The Game of Thrones series finale with air on Sunday, May 19 on HBO at 9 p.m. Eastern.