Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Sansa and Daenerys
A little while ago, I did a comparison between the Game of Thrones characters Sansa and Arya Stark. Focusing on an argument between the two in the final season, I noted how it revealed aspects about each person that they tried to hide from the world and each other. While writing it though, I found that Sansa actually began resembling another character, Daenerys Targaryen.
The Cold Shoulder
Regarding Sansa, I specifically noted how she had become more of a southerner of Kings Landing than a daughter of the north. What elements that did remain from her childhood were a sense of entitlement because of her position as a princess in all but name only. Typical naïve beliefs of a little girl, but transformed through trauma.
By the time of season six, it appears that façade had been burned away by abuse, loss, and rape. Nurtured by Little Finger in the arts of deception and cold reading others, and indirectly by Cersei Lannister by her knack for surviving so long in King's Landing, Sansa comes off initially as cold as the north that she hails from, but is just as determined to survive as she had done in the south.
However, she is just as quick to judge others that on some level she feels are beneath her, or at the least need to show her the proper respect due for the daughter of House Stark. By the time of her exodus from the abusive and sadistic husband, Ramsey Bolton, she feels that she has earned the right to be listened to as a peer rather than a prattling princess waiting for her prince.
Yet she consistently runs into obstacles in many forms. Her status as just being a Westerosi woman, her half-brother, Jon’s indirect ignorance of her input, the legacy of her other brother, Robb’s defeat during the middle of the series, and the other lords' distrust of her being she was married or to be married to three different men who were outsiders. Even a child, Lyanna Mormont, made a lord by the death of her parents during Robb’s war, was able to disrespect her and gained more respect from their peers.
Though trying to go along and cooperate with Jon, her anger grows. By the time of the Battle of the Bastards, it had gotten to the point where she deliberately withheld information about reinforcements in the Knights of the Vale from her own allies and sacrificed many lives so that she could claim the credit.
It’s a cold and ruthless move worthy of her southern teachers, yet even this backfires as instead of being proclaimed the savior of the north from the Boltons, her half-brother is made King of the North and hailed the hero for his courage during battle, despite the mistakes he made.
Despite these, Sansa still tows the lines, even while increasingly doubting Jon’s credentials as being king given his obsession with the war with the Night King and willingness to bring in outsiders because of his own feelings (even though it was pointed out to Sansa that his alliance with Daenerys was tactically a smart move).
When she finally has a one-on-one talk with the Dragon Queen, a woman of clear power and influence, it would seem that she would find an easy alliance with someone who may understand her.
Daenerys is the last known Targaryen of her line throughout the majority of Game of Thrones. In the beginning, she is a political refugee in Essos because of the war to dethrone her family decades earlier. Also at this time, however, she is used coldly as a bargaining chip for her brother, Viserys, as he is plotting to retake Westeros. All this because she was a woman and that's how royal women were used in most of that world.
She is forced into marriage with Khal Drogo of the Dothraki horse lords, whom Viserys hopes to make allies with in his upcoming war. She is raped and abused, but slowly starts gaining more influence than her brother over the Dothraki, culminating in their execution of Viserys for insulting them.
As the seasons progress, she gains more power with the birth of three dragons, the first in centuries, a growing army and sense of purpose. Being the last Targaryen Daenerys feels an obligation to accomplish her family’s dream of restoration, but also as the destined ruler of a united Dothraki. She liberates cities and brings justice to slaves who had nothing to look forward to under the rule of their eastern lords, winning their hearts and loyalty (as well as those of the viewers). Yet despite these triumphs and struggles, Daenerys never loses sight of her main goal: retake the Iron Throne.
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To this end, this obsession grows, becoming more fanatical in nature. Her violent temper is only kept in check by her close friends and advisors. Despite her talks of freedom and breaking the system of violence that has plagued the West for centuries, when pressed, her fear is losing the opportunity of retaking the Iron Throne.
By the time she has subdued the east, Daenerys had become one of the most powerful warlords in the known world. Powerful enough to now retake Westeros. Yet her glorious crusade quickly bogs down into loss and indecision. Her initial desire is to go straight to Kings Landing and burn it down, however, she is convinced to take a longer approach by Tyrion Lannister. This results in prolonging her war with the now queen of Westeros, Cersei Lannister. When she meets Jon Snow, the King of the North, she runs into another obstacle that foretells a later problem.
Daenerys barrages Jon with her long list of titles that she has both earned and taken. Titles that easterners heed and respect: only to the King of the North, he doesn’t care and bluntly says so. He is there to gain allies against his war with the Night King, a war he believes is more important than the petulant squabbles of who rules who. The two have a cold and hostile relationship between Daenerys’ entitlement and Jon’s practicality.
In the end, however, whether through charm or seduction, the two rulers come to a compromise sealed in her bedroom. Daenerys will aid in Jon’s war, if he bends the knee and aids Daenerys in her own war. It’s during this time when she goes north with Jon and her dragons and meets with Sansa Stark.
"We both know what it means to lead people who aren't inclined to accept a woman's rule. And we both done a damn good job of it from what I can tell. And yet I can't help but feel we're at odds with one another".
— - Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones, Season 8, episode 2
The purpose of the encounter between these two women is pretty transparent. Daenerys, feeling short of Westerosi allies despite her new lover/Warden of the North, is looking to win allies and recognizes a potential kindred spirit in Sansa. However, Sansa’s hostility towards her is plain, if quiet. Perhaps she was hoping to win her over like she did Jon.
Things start out rather coldly with Daenerys shaming Tyrion’s lackluster advice ability and Sansa defending her would-be-husband. Then comes a turn of the hand when Sansa indirectly insults Jon for allowing his feelings to rule him and Daenerys in turn defends him. They speak on areas of common ground: struggle, violent sexism, loss of family and Sansa seems to agree and apologizes to the Dragon Queen for her distrust.
Things seem well until Sansa slowly brings up the question of the North’s status after the war with Cersei is done. It becomes clear to Daenerys what Sansa is asking and what her own goals are and she drops the façade.
The Invisible Duel
This scene's power derives from how it seems to go in the obvious direction of, for lack of better words, ‘girl power,' but turns into a machiavellian duel of implication and psych warfare. To be honest, from the beginning I didn’t take Sansa seriously. Props to the actors by the way, because her body language said it all even before the topic of the North ends their brief truce. Sansa is stiff and cold towards Easterners, quick to call out her own flaws when placing blame on others like Jon Snow had earlier. She is not impressed by Daenerys and never trusted her since she flew into Winterfell with her dragons, being a clear display of force.
Even when she begins to seemingly warm up as they share their experiences and bond over some light humor, Sansa’s stiffness in the eyes remains throughout. Her words feel shallow and hollow, as one would expect of someone from King’s Landing. The slight movement of her eyes hints that she is almost analyzing Daenerys as she is speaking, divining the depth so her true intentions. By this, Sansa confirms her suspicions that Daenerys has no intention of keeping the northlands free.
Yes, both women have had similar traumas and became stronger because they survived them. Yes, both women are familiar with entitlement because of their titles or goals. And that’s where the similarities end.
The Parting of Ways
Sansa’s final question reveals several things about her character that showcase her deviation from the path Daenerys is on. Though she was initially still self-centered, feeling she deserved respect, Sansa has matured enough to put aside her own goals for the sake of the larger goal of protecting her family and the northern lands from further suffering. It's why she continued to follow Jon despite her doubts about his ability to rule as King of the North and I would attribute this change to her fight with Arya.
I think that their argument finally revealed to Sansa those attributes of entitlement as not only lacking the true northern loyalty she was espousing, but also a weakness that could be exploited by someone who knew how to. This was exactly what Daenerys had tried to do like the now-deceased Little Finger before her, and begs the question of what might have happened had they spoken before Sansa’s fight with her sister.
While Sansa had let go of her entitlement, Daenerys held onto hers. More than that, it increased, growing more impatient and unstable as her losses mounted. Daenerys ‘ belief in herself grows beyond just being the last Targaryen and her long list of titles. It becomes a delusional sense of divine right in her own personhood.
Hence when it's revealed to her that she is not only no longer the last Targaryen with the new reveal that Jon Snow in fact has a larger and legit claim to the Iron Throne than her, Daenerys becomes paranoid. She not only believes the throne is hers by blood, but that she needs it to be hers. And with the latter deaths of two of her dragons and her best friend and advisor, Missandei, the back finally breaks.
© 2021 Jamal Smith