“My skin has gone from porcelain, to ivory, to steel.” –Sansa Stark, A Storm of Swords.
Sansa Stark is the second child and eldest daughter of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell and his wife Lady Catelyn Tully. Played by Sophie Turner in HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series, she presents herself as a typical lady’s lady: pretty, soft-spoken, and a master of all the “girly” arts. In her mother’s words, “Sansa was a lady at three, always so courteous and eager to please.” Beneath her gentle exterior, however, lies a ton of pain. When a fantasy civil war coincides with the onset of puberty, stuff like that happens.
Can we blame her for sometimes seeming passive? Sansa is one of the more put-upon heroes of HBO’s Game of Thrones and its book version, but she has grown up fast. Over several seasons, Sansa has evolved from a fairytale fangirl into a fairytale hostage and, finally, into a big-time political player of her own terms. Practice that curtsy to these 42 calculating facts about Sansa Stark.
42. Knees of Steel
When Sansa and Tyrion are forcefully wed in the show, she politely crouches down so he can tie her bridal cloak upon her shoulders. In the books, however, Sansa literally refuses to bend the knee for the Lannisters. Tyrion insistently tugs her skirt a few times, but Sansa she stands her ground and thinks, “I won’t. Why should I spare his feelings, when no one cares about mine?” Mind you, Sansa is a hostage-bride and literal child. It’s the most “polite” form of public protest she has.
41. Jeyne Rhymes with Pain
Much of Sansa’s season 5 plot from the show is directly lifted from the subplot of her best friend in the books, Jeyne Poole. As children, Jeyne was the daughter of the Stark family steward at Winterfell and grew up alongside Sansa. She even follows Sansa and her family to King’s Landing, where they are separated after the arrest of Ned Stark. Fast-forward to A Dance of Dragons and it’s Jeyne who is forced to impersonate Arya, endure marriage with Ramsay, and escape Winterfell with Theon Greyjoy. Not sure book Sansa would trade her life for Jeyne’s.
40. Who Can Never Be Sure?
George R. R. Martin refuses to give a firm answer on how to interpret Sansa and Sandor Clegane’s relationship. When asked whether it was romantic or platonic, he simply told fans, “It could be very different things to each of those involved.” That’s really helpful, George.
39. Where There’s a Willas, There’s a Way
For a teenaged girl, Sansa has a lot of ex-fiancés. But in the books, Loras Tyrell is not among them. Instead, she is briefly promised to Loras and Margaery Tyrell’s oldest brother, Willas Tyrell. Willas is the heir to Highgarden, but he is disabled due to a jousting accident. He also never met Sansa, but that doesn’t stop the girl from romanticizing him big time.
38. Princess Perjury
Sansa helped Littlefinger frame a man for murder. In A Storm of Swords, as in the show, Littlefinger sweeps Sansa away to her Aunt Lysa at the Eyrie. Subsequently, Littlefinger sends Lysa down the Moon Door. However, there’s a proxy here they left out: Marillion the singer. He is an accomplice to Lysa’s murder attempt on Sansa, and then made into unwitting patsy when Littlefinger sweeps in to turn the tables. Sansa verifies Littlefinger’s testimony that Marillion pushed Lysa down the Moon Door himself. It’s an ethical quandary that’s more complicated than the one they give HBO Sansa.
37. Reborn as a Rock
While in the Vale, Sansa goes incognito has Alayne Stone—Littlefinger’s supposed bastard daughter, not his niece.
36. Splitting Hairs
In reality, the actor who plays Sansa is more Lannister than Tully. Sophie Turner is a natural blonde, but she dyes her hair auburn for the show. After a few too many seasons of hair-damaging dye sessions, Turner has more recently opted for a classic red wig.
35. Sansa the Second
There are two Sansa Starks. More specifically, “Sansa” appears to be a family name, for there was a “Sansa Stark” who lived a few generations back in the reign of Daeron I Targaryen. This first Sansa was the daughter of Rickon Stark—another ancestor, not her little brother—who died in a quest to conquer Dorne. In the ensuing inheritance drama, Sansa was married off to her late father’s own half-brother, which perhaps foreshadows Sansa the Second’s current marital woes…
34. Weaving a Tale
For Sansa’s wedding to Tyrion, the Game of Thrones costume department made allusions to Sansa’s kidnapping by the Lannisters on her wedding dress. The small of her back is emblazoned with wolves and fish, which happen to the sigils of her parents’ families, House Stark and Tully respectively. The bands leading from her back to her torso are also sewn with wolves and fish until they start to be replaced with Lannister lions. Leading up to her neckline, the wolves and fish disappear until they are replaced completely by the cats. Finally, a large lion is quite literally stamped on the back of Sansa’s neck (or rather her collar). #Symbolism.
33. The Future Is Not Set in Stone
When asked whether Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark will meet again, George R. R. Martin coyly responded, “Why, the Hound is dead, and Sansa may be dead as well. There’s only Alayne Stone.” Seeing as the show depicts the Hound as very not dead, what does that say about Sansa’s new persona?
32. Get Her Look
Sansa tends to copy the hair of her political “role models.” Note how, in season 1, Sansa’s elaborate updos mirror the queenly styles of her would-be mother-in-law, Cersei Lannister. When she’s disillusioned with the Lannisters—understandably—in season 2, Sansa’s hair reverts to the loose waves of her real mother, Catelyn Stark. When Margaery Tyrell takes Sansa under her wing in season 3, note how Sansa begins to favor pinned-back and braided looks, just like her new best friend.
31. Wolf Pack
Thankfully, the sisterly angst between Sansa and Arya Stark does not extend off-screen. In reality, Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, have been best friends since they started the show at ages 14 and 12, respectively.
30. Sisters in Ink
Stark girls ride or die: Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams got matching tattoos to share the date of when they first snatched their iconic roles as Sansa and Arya: “07.08.09.”
29. Dramatic Guidance
Sometimes, it pays to go to school. Sophie Turner was encouraged by her drama teacher to audition for the part of Sansa Stark.
28. Wet Blanket Affairs
Sansa was created to keep the Starks from getting too lovey-dovey. When writing the series, George R. R. Martin felt the Stark were getting along too well. Thus, he created the girly-girl Sansa to be a foil to her tomboy sister, Arya. It would be Sansa who embraced traditional Westeros gender roles, while Arya rejects them. It would also be Sansa who was stuck at court while Arya went off to fight in foreign lands. Sansa’s life was literally written to be unfair.
27. Kiss or Miss?
Sansa is an unreliable narrator. Case in point: what fans have called the “Unkiss.” In A Clash of Kings, during the Battle of Blackwater, a blood-soaked Sandor “The Hound” Clegane shows up in Sansa’s room to ask if she wants to escape with him. When she declines, Sandor pulls a knife on her and demands a song. She sings and he cries, slinking away—hashtag hot mess. At least, this is according to Sansa’s narration. In a later book, she remembers their final meeting as ending with the Hound kissing her. So, what happened?
26. Red, White, and Eww
Before leaving King’s Landing, Sandor Clegane leaves his bloody white cloak behind with Sansa. Sansa still keeps the dirty garment with her, alongside her summer dresses. We’re sure that whoever does her laundry appreciates that.
25. Poison Rocks
Remember the scene where Olenna Tyrell fiddles with Sansa’s necklace at Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding? You can almost see the Queen of Thorns take the poisonous jewel that has been smuggled on Sansa’s neck. In A Storm of Swords, this poison was originally hidden inside Sansa’s hairnet, but it was changed to a necklace because a gem in her hair would be harder for audiences to see.
24. Family Confessions
In the books, Sansa is privy to a murder mystery that the show kind of left hanging: the murder of Jon Arryn. When her Aunt Lysa is about to push her out of the Moon Door, the older lady starts to hysterically admit to her crimes, including the poison of her first husband, Lord Jon Arryn. Lysa did it all for her beloved Littlefinger. Thus, Sansa has knowledge that Littlefinger is basically the mastermind behind the War of the Five Kings. This knowledge might come in handy…
23. Charming and In Charge
In the books, Sansa is currently the de facto leading Lady of the Eyrie and the Vale. As “Alayne Stone,” the supposed bastard daughter of Littlefinger, she is in charge of her freshly-weaned cousin Robert Arryn while Littlefinger is regent. In King’s Landing, she was only a hostage who had to watch her step. In the Eyrie, we’ll see how she puts those lessons into practice.
22. The Little Bridegroom
When Littlefinger first smuggles Sansa to the Vale, Lysa Arryn (nee Tully) intends to marry her niece to her son, the still-suckling little Lord Robert Arryn. On one hand, Sweetrobin is her cousin and is still breastfeeding. On the other hand, the fact that Sweetrobin is not a sadist nor a grumpy old man maybe shoots him right to the top of Sansa’s list of potential suitors. Now that’s what they call slim pickings.
21. Dodged a Creepy Bullet
At some point before Sansa’s first wedding, Littlefinger put in a request to marry Sansa himself. Fortunately for Sansa, the Crown turned down his offer because he was too lowborn.
20. Plan H
Just because Sansa is “safe” in the Vale, doesn’t mean the proposals and plots have stopped. Littlefinger has plans to marry her to the next heir to the Vale, Harrold Hardyng. When little Robert dies, the plan is for Sansa to unveil herself as the One True Sansa Stark at their wedding and retake Winterfell with the Vale behind them.
19. Sweet and Sour
Sansa’s favorite food is lemon cakes. It’s a common trope for people in the show to offer her lemon cakes when they want Sansa to talk.
18. Joffrey and Sansa Were the Rap Duo That Never Was
Back when Joffrey—played by Jack Gleeson—was still alive, Sophie Turner would beatbox on set with her dastardly co-star. Or rather Turner would beatbox as Gleeson accompanied her with rap lyrics.
17. I Stand with Sansa
Among the heroes in Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark perhaps inspires the most criticism from fans for being “useless.” Sophie Turner is having none of that. Defending her character, she states, “It frustrates me when people don’t see where I’m coming from… I’m just very passionate about her.”
16. Just Say Neigh
Sophie Turner is allergic to horses. The actress braves through her Sansa’s few horse scenes, but she has to carry around an inhaler at all times just in case.
15. The Noble Philosophers
Sansa Stark and Loras Tyrell had a philosophy club. Or rather, their actors did. Sophie Turner and Finn Jones, who played Loras, had their own off-set philosophy club where the two would ask the Big Questions. Nothing like filming scenes about death and war all day to inspire thoughts about the Big Picture, right?
14. Can’t Compare
Sansa and Arya’s governess, Septa Mordane, would weaponize comparisons against the sisters. She would mostly exalt Sansa’s feminine accomplishments, telling the girls’ mother that “Sansa’s work is as pretty as she is” and complimenting the older girls’ “such fine, delicate hands.” Regarding Arya, the septa would say, in contrast, that she “had the hands of a blacksmith.” With this negative reinforcement, is it any wonder Arya kind of blames and resents Sansa?”
13. Sansa the Bard
In A Game of Thrones, it’s stated that Sansa writes poetry. Unfortunately, we never read any of her original works. Perhaps a civil war or two can put a damper on that young writer’s spirit.
12. One Lady Band
Sansa is a talented musician. Arya references her ability to play “the high harp and the bells.”
11. Two Plus Two Equals Something
It’s implied that Sansa sucks at math. Arya recalls that household management, second to riding a horse, was the only learning subject in which Arya outshines her older sister because Sansa “had never much a head for figures.” When Sansa is engaged to Joffrey, Arya hopes he has “a good steward” since Sansa cannot be counted on to balance those chequebooks.
10. Ginger Erasure
Onscreen, Sansa is the one redhead out among her brunette Stark siblings. In the books, the opposite is true. In fact, all of the Stark kids (save for Arya and Jon) take after Catelyn, with their Tully auburn hair and blue eyes. That’s a phenomenon that TVTropes lovingly calls the “Adaptation Dye Job.”
9. Survivor’s Gloat
Sophie Turner has full faith in her character to survive where her siblings could not. In one interview she asserted, “If any of the other Starks—or anyone else, for that matter—was put in that same situation as Sansa if they’d have fought back then, they would be dead right now. Sansa adapts to her environment very well.”
8. The Fool of a Friend
Remember Dontos Hollard? That knight Sansa saved from death-by-Joffrey, who then whisked her away to Littlefinger in the aftermath of Joffrey’s murder? In the books, he and Sansa have a much longer, but complicated, friendship that lasts two installments. As the court fool, Dontos becomes Sansa’s well-meaning but incompetent protector who even circumvents Joffrey’s command to beat her. Referring to each other as “Florian” and “Jonquil,” they form a sad parody of the knight/lady relationship from Sansa’s songs.
Unfortunately, like in the show, Dontos was mostly in it for the money and was revealed to have been instructed by Littlefinger the entire time. Dontos is then promptly murdered when he asks for payment in return for bringing Sansa to him. RIP, Florian.
7. Junior High: Civil War
When the series starts, Sansa is even younger than in the show. She’s 11 in the first book and currently about 13 going on 14.
6. Homicide and Hand-Me-Downs
After Lysa Arryn flies out the Moon Door, Littlefinger gives Sansa, now “Alayne,” all of her dead aunt’s clothing. Most of it is too big for her, but hey, what a great excuse to eat more lemon cakes.
5. Good Intentions, Bad Results
Although left out of the show, Sansa inadvertently made it easier for Cersei and company to leverage a coup against her father, Ned Stark. Let us explain: in the books, Ned has a ship waiting to take the Starks out of the city. Sansa is aware of his plans to escape King’s Landing—mind you, she’s not aware that her father has uncovered Cersei’s treason and Joffrey’s incestuous origins. Not willing to give up her engagement to Joffrey, she tells Cersei of her father’s plan. The rest spirals into unfortunate history.
4. Throwback Thursday
The sixth installment of the A Song of Ice and Fire series is not out yet, but George R. R. Martin released a few sample chapters, one of which shows Sansa seducing a man named Harrold Hardyng, a likely heir to the vale. Previously, he participated in a tournament in one of the Dunk and Egg novellas, The Hedge Knight. Fans note how four of the five champions in that tournament come from houses that Sansa has been “romantically” linked to, including Baratheon, Lannister, Tyrell, and the Hardyngs. Does the fifth knight—Valarr Targaryen—foreshadow a future, more fiery marriage prospect for Sansa Stark?
3. Super Sansa
Sansa with warg powers? It’s true. George R. R. Martin confirmed that all the Stark kids possess the psychic powers demonstrated by Bran Stark. In Sansa’s case, she simply hasn’t had the opportunity to use her natural abilities. At least, not yet.
2. True Love 4 Never
In George R. R. Martin’s original pitch for the series, it takes longer for Sansa to come around on the “Joffrey sucks” bandwagon. Much longer. In fact, Martin’s original pitch had Sansa marrying Joffrey and giving birth to his Lannister baby.
1. Adopted from Unemployment
Sansa’s direwolf Lady met a fatal end. Fortunately, Lady got her happy ending in real life as Sophie Turner adopted the dog who played her character’s beloved pet. The dog’s real-life name is Zunni and did not perish against Valyrian steel. A low bar for happy endings in Game of Thrones, I know.