(Welcome to Debate of Thrones, where a panel of Citadel-trained experts explain why someone deserves, or doesn’t deserve, to sit on the Iron Throne. In this edition: no one in the Seven Kingdoms is as mentally equipped to lead the nation as Sansa Stark.)
When the people of the Seven Kingdoms think of a perfect monarch, what traits do we look for? Nobility. Dignity. Justice. Mercy. Grace. Strength. Loyalty. Kindness. How often do the gods grant us that boon? Perhaps once in every several centuries. The last few years have seen Westernos ripped apart by lesser kings and queens. Greedy and wrathful and mad, the Targaryen royals and Baratheons that followed them sowed war and death from Dorne to The Wall. And now the choice appears to be between a despotic Targaryen queen raised in foreign lands or an alleged Targaryen king who grew up the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark. But what if there was another choice? A better choice for the realm? Lady Sansa Stark of Winterfell.
Over the course of the last seven years — since before the opening salvos of the War of the Five Kings — Sansa has been at the center of every major event. From a terrified child to the steadfast Lady of Winterfell, Sansa Stark has proven time and again that she has the mettle and the temperament to take, and hold, the Iron Throne.
The eldest daughter of Lord Ned Stark and his wife, Lady Catelyn, Sansa Stark was born to the highest echelons of noble society. As Warden of the North, Lord Stark ruled over lands equal to at least one-third of the Realm. From childhood, Sansa was educated to be a great Lady; taught both feminine pursuits such as music and embroidery as well as the complex history of the Houses of the Seven Kingdoms. From a young age, Sansa would have learned how to manage a household of meaningful size, including how to keep the smallfolk fed and warm. Without a fine grasp of the day-to-day minutia, a Lady would run the risk of killing her people through neglect.
Unlike Daenerys, who grew up across the Narrow Sea in Essos with no knowledge of her birth nation, Sansa knows how each branch of the Great Houses intertwines with the others. Sansa knows courtesy is a lady’s armor and is well-versed in the political word games necessary when dealing with emissaries and adversaries. An alleged destiny is no match to a lifetime of training in the pit of the vipers.
Sansa Stark’s life is a series of tragedies. What should have been the start of a fairy tale life turned deadly when Sansa’s pet direwolf Lady was put down by order of Queen Cersei. Though Lady had not hurt Prince Joffrey, she was the only direwolf caught, and therefore the only one punished. It would be a sadly prescient lesson for Sansa to absorb.
The next few years would have broken a lesser woman. Forced to watch her father publicly beheaded, alone and held hostage at the whim of a sadistic fiancé, beaten and threatened, Sansa Stark somehow managed to thrive even in the face of overwhelming adversity. Her quick mind kept her alive through the worst of King Joffrey’s impulses. Her quick disappearance from King’s Landing after his death indicated a strong sense of survival. While we will never know if Sansa had a hand in King Joffrey’s death, there isn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Queen Cersei would have blamed her.
From there, Sansa momentarily disappears from history. We know now that she was under an assumed name in the Vale under the protection of her aunt, Lady Lysa Arryn. During her subterfuge, Sansa learned just how high the ladder of chaos went. Until Littlefinger’s tutelage, Sansa gained the ability to see the greater board in the game of thrones. But the cost was unbearably high. The less spoken about her time with Roose Bolton, the better. Suffice to say, Sansa learned how to harden herself as well as how sweet vengeance tastes.
All of these struggles turned Sansa Stark into a political powerhouse. Combining the ruthlessness learned from Cersei and the savviness from surviving Littlefinger makes Sansa by far the most prepared candidate for holding the Iron Throne.
But it isn’t simply her sharp mind and a keen sense of how to play a situation to her advantage that makes Sansa Stark the best candidate for the throne. It is also her intense desire to keep her people safe. Even as a hostage in enemy territory during the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa knew her duty as a leader. After Cersei abandoned her post, Sansa kept the women and children of in Maegor’s Holdfast calm with prayers and song. Much later, putting duty to her people above honor, Sansa made a deal with her adversary Littlefinger in order to bring soldiers from the Vale to save Winterfell. Without Sansa’s strategic mind, the North would still be in the hands of House Bolton and Jon Snow would be dead.
Sansa’s skill set translated into a crucial unsung role in the lead-up to the final battle with the Night King. While other candidates were making terrible military decisions about troop placement and shallow fire ditches, Sansa Stark was saving people. Every day she was out amongst the officers and the supply lines. She knew how much food Winterfell had in storage versus how many smallfolk were sheltering within its walls. She knew how many weapons the soldiers had and how many were injured. Sansa concerned herself with keeping as many Northerners alive through the winter, unlike others with decision-making capabilities. Hundreds, if not thousands of lives, were saved thanks to her efforts.
Perhaps most importantly though, Sansa Stark is savvy. After a steep learning curve living under the eye of Cersei Lannister, Sansa quickly became hyper-vigilant in order to survive. With such a well-honed sense of danger coupled with ruthless pragmatism, Sansa has found herself over and over again warning of impending danger to deaf ears. As Queen, Sansa would not have to filter her common sense against the rigid honor of her family.
Not only has Sansa had to come to the rescue of her cousin Jon Snow after he rebuffed her advice ahead of the Battle of the Bastards, she also predicted the outcome of other events. After the Starks reclaimed Winterfell, Sansa warned Jon to focus his attention on Cersei before the Night King as King’s Landing was the more serious danger. A prediction that turned out to be true. She told the War Council that the troops needed more time to recuperate after defeating the Night King. Based on the destruction of Deanerys’ fleet off the coast of Dragonstone, that prediction appears true. She also warned Jon that Queen Daenerys had a bit too much of her father in her and that the North would never bow the Targaryen queen. Those predictions, too, appear accurate.
At the end of the day, the people of the Seven Kingdoms have a choice. They can put a defacto foreign queen on the Iron Throne. A woman with little knowledge of how Westeros works, less patience for dissent, and a short temper. They could raise up Jon Snow, rename him King Aegon VI, and let a man who bent the knee for the first pretty face ascend to the highest duty in the land. A man whose poor battle tactics have cost the lives of thousands of good men and women who believed in his honorable, guileless fantasy world. Or, they could choose a native daughter of the Seven Kingdoms. A woman who has proven herself a master political schemer tempered with duty, justice, and mercy. A woman like Queen Sansa Stark, first of Her Name.
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