Game of Thrones – Arya and Sansa – Why love one but hate the other?

GOT Show spoiler warning. Relatively book-safe, minus some excluded scenes.

Two sides of the same coin.

I’ll start by saying that I love both Arya and Sansa as characters – both are refreshingly complex and multidimensional young women who are deeply explored and beautifully acted in this epic series. I believe very strongly in Ned’s words that his daughters are two sides of the same coin – both have been thrown into an impossible situation, and have to use their at times wildly different personalities to adapt and survive.

The big issue, however, that I see within the GoT fandom, book and show alike, is the raging hard-on for Arya’s rebellious tomboyism pitted against Sansa’s feminine stoicism. I have a MAJOR problem with that, because both girls are flawed, both girls have moments of weakness, both girls are whiny and clueless at times, both girls have a level of self-absorbtion, and yet Arya is forgiven for this while Sansa is largely disliked for having similar issues. I can’t help but wonder if it’s her very girlishness that’s the cause. Is the universal love of Arya because she likes swords over songs? Is that even fair?

The Flaws of the Stark Girls

Sansa from day one is ridiculed for her girlish “naivety” – her desire to be a wife and mother, and live as an eventual queen. Meanwhile Arya is loved from day one for being cheeky, boyish, and wild. It’s interesting because within their universe Arya is the naive one – Sansa’s dreams are very realistic with what’s expected of women in Westeros, and that’s something that our modern minds absolutely hate, apparently.

When the shit hits the fan, the girls are separated into two very distinct and difficult situations and have to adapt accordingly – Arya manages to escape but now she’s a young girl who is completely lost, at first in the city and later into the wild world. Sansa on the other hand is completely trapped with no room to even voice her rebellion, let alone act on it. Which is why cutting out her very prominent wedding scene from the book (in which she refuses to kneel to Tyrion at the altar) more than bothered me – it really, really pissed me off.

“Adorable Badassery” not “Worrisome Violence”.

With the start of season four, we see the long term effects of their ordeals is really starting to show. Both their dreams were shattered the day Joffery had Ned’s head taken off, both exposed to violence and emotional devastation. Both girls have to learn how to adapt now, and as Arya slowly loses her humanity and Sansa is forced to grow a backbone, the hate for the older sister continues despite her developing into a stronger character.

My very co worker complained about her today, having seen the season 4 premiere. “I can’t stand Sansa, she’s so whiny. She hates Tyrion and is always crying. I mean, sure, his family killed her family but…”

So here’s a young girl, 14 years old, who watched her father’s head get cut off, was regularly abused physically and emotionally, humiliated publicly, forced to denounce her own family, believes most of her siblings to be dead, almost raped, forced to marry into the family who systematically ruined hers, promised a way out only to have to taken from her multiple times. Now she refuses to eat because her mother is dead, too, and as far as she knows she’s the only living Stark left but jesus christ why is she crying again?

How dare she cry.

How dare she show sadness and pain through tears, her only outlet, where Ayra is now creepily stabbing people through the throat as a means to show her pain. But no, Arya is badass because she is coping with her tragedies through sociopathic violence, where Sansa won’t, and actually can’t because she will have to deal with the consequences of her actions immediately, and brutally.

This is the root of my issues right here. Sansa and Arya’s lives suck tremendously right now, they are both children who have had to face unimaginable trauma, and they will both be, for lack of better terms, fucked up for the rest of their lives for it. But because Arya is wild and uncontrollable, because she CAN be, and Sansa has no room to lash out even if she wanted to, the latter gets hated for it.

Oh, they just slit your mom's throat and killed your brother? Suck it up. Go stab someone.
Oh, they just slit your mom’s throat and killed your brother? Suck it up. Go stab someone.

It bothers me that a large portion of the GoT fandom is in essence shaming Sansa for reacting to abuse the way most humans react to abuse.

I really can’t stand that hypocrisy. I can’t in one breath celebrate Arya’s “badassesness” while ignoring the very clear and obvious signs she is losing it. And I can’t hate on Sansa for being naive while ignoring the desperate position she is in. “She’s so stupid for believing that she would be able to escape with the Tyrells.” “She’s so stupid for trusting a drunk former knight.” IS she, though? Are we honestly going to fault her for daring to dream that her abuse might actually end? That someone might actually still show a shred of kindness? She’s a fool for holding on to her humanity, I guess.

Again – I love both girls, for their charms and their flaws – but I would argue I love Sansa more, because anybody in her situation would feel stressed, alone, scared, and sad, confused and desperate – let alone a CHILD. And can we remember that part? Yes, Sophie Turner is a stunning young woman but Sansa Stark was an 11 year old girl in the books, and while the characters are aged up for the show their situations are the same. Please tell me again how an 11 – 13 year old exposed to this sort of life is supposed to act?

Anyway, this is more rant that reason, perhaps, but it’s something I feel very strongly about. Also, check out PolicyMic’s great take on the subject!

To The Readers What are your thoughts on Sansa and Arya’s development so far in Game of Thrones? What do you like or dislike about either? What do you think about how they are handling their situations?

I love the way she smiles after slowly and methodically shoving her sword throw a man's neck. It's so cute.
I love the way she smiles after slowly and methodically shoving her sword throw a man’s neck. It’s so cute.
  • Greibach

    It’s a bit difficult for me to separate out the books from the tv show. At least in the beginning, I hated Sansa and loved Arya. Now, I still love Arya, and think Sansa has grown into a much more interesting character, and I don’t particularly dislike her.

    It can be easy to lump everyone that dislikes Sansa into one set of reasons. The ones you listed were largely not the reasons I hated her in the beginning. Feeling sorrow, fear, crying, those are completely normal. What I hated was that she was so blinded by her fantasy to become the queen that she literally betrayed her sister and her family for Joffrey, having seen first hand that he was violent, petty, and vindictive. Further, she was basically in denial that she had done anything wrong at all, convinced of her own righteousness. That was how and where she earned her black marks in my book. Of course, this was all in season/book 1. Also, it was pretty grating reading that attitude in the first person, something that you don’t have to suffer through in the show.

    To contrast, Arya was, if nothing else, loyal. Yes, I will admit that her tomboyishness appealed to me, but it was more her attitude that I enjoyed. I don’t dislike the feminine characters in game of thrones; I actually really loved reading Cersei, Catelyn, and tangentially some of the others like Margery. I totally dig the court politics. I find Arya’s story leading to new and interesting places.

    However, as I said earlier, Sansa has grown back on me. She has finally woken up, and she is making the best of a terrible situation. As I said, I don’t begrudge her emotional reactions; they are perfectly rational. She’s being clever and opportunistic now (more so in the books I guess, but it still speaks to my point), and using her talents and exploiting the weaknesses/assumptions of others. She’s interesting, and repentant about what she did wrong, and I do admire that.

    • I would totally agree that Sansa was pretty obnoxious early on – I definitely don’t deny that.

      I think my anger is more-so that people STILL hate her – despite everything she’s gone through and the fact that she is obviously learning / getting better, she’s STILL the most hated character in the TV series for the totally wrong reasons. More hated than people like Joffrey and Littlefinger and the Hound. And from a book perspective, more hated than Dany who (spoilers) makes a lot of similar, self-absorbed, and repeated mistakes with horrible consequences. But Dany is hot and has dragons, so.

      I think there are people like you (thoughtful) who recognize her growth and flaws. But a huge, huge population of TV watchers with little insight (Or care to look deeper) still think she’s whiney and obnoxious and cries too much.

      She totally fucked up and paid an extremely horrible price for it but nobody seems to look past her screw up and sympathize that she has suffered tremendous for that and other things out of her control.

      And Ayra’s changes are, imo, for the “worse” – she is more badass, at the expense of being a sociopath and she’s also had a guardian of some sort to help her through some of her roughest scenarios.

      So I think, again, it’s not that Sansa didn’t screw up, but that she’s never been forgiven for her mistakes where other characters’ major flaws are looked over often.

      Thanks, as always, for your awesome input. I can’t wait to see more of her growth depicted in the show (and hopefully 100x better, they need to stop leaving out her rare badass moments 🙁 )

      • Natasha Petrikov

        Speaking as a fourteen year old girl, I have to say that I hate the excuse of Sansa just being a naïve little girl. You will not find people defending Joffrey just because he was a thirteen year old boy. While her naïveté is annoying, I dislike Sansa because of her lack of redeeming qualities. First of all, she is probably the most shallow person in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. She refuses to like any people who she sees as ugly. This includes her previous husband, Tyrion. In “A Storm of Swords”, Sansa is relieved as she fled King’s Landing and not at all bothered that Tyrion would have been put to death for a crime he did not commit. Not only does she not care whether Tyrion lives or dies, she publicly humiliates him at their wedding(in the books) even though he has never wronged her. Another reason why I think people dislike Sansa is because after she supposedly became a strong person after learning from Petyr Baelish, she does not do anything. At that point, we were hoping that she would change and use her power in the north but she didn’t. However, despite all of that, the biggest problem with Sansa is that there is no reason to like her. Right from the start, our first impression of her was that of an insipid idiot. Ever since then, she has not done anything that would make me like her. No matter how much sympathy I have for her, that cannot make me like her as a person. I think that many Sansa fans may be confusing pitty for actual enjoyment of her character. I do not think that she is as hateful as she is being portrayed in social media, but being compared to Arya makes her look pathetic because she is being outdone by a nine year old girl.

        If by the time that someone reads this Sansa has become a bad ass and/or killed Ramsay, I am sorry.

        • alyssa

          And like all Russian you are just a fool, sorry!
          Blame the victim and bla-bla-bla!

      • Nym

        Arya is a sociopath? How!? Why show her in a bad light just to praise Sansa? It’s wrong to fight sexism with more sexism. Arya has made friends along the way, she’s the one who voices her thoughts against society’s expectations of women! She’s one of the most compassionate people in the books. Arya is an extrovert through and through, ‘antisocial’ doesn’t even fit her in any way. The text itself doesn’t go with the ‘theory’ that she’s a sociopath. If you use the word ‘sociopath’ & ‘psychopath’ to describe her character, then you should really read the books again. She’s not going off in the streets killing every single person. She killed people because it was her only choice and NOBODY on her list deserved any kind of remorse, they were either rapists, deserters, paedophiles. And she has saved many along the way: Hot Pie, Gendry, Weasel.

        Sociopath is a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviour. Which doesn’t even make sense when considering how Arya is and even the text disagrees with it.

        She even showed sympathy to a girl she never knew:

        “You may have bad dreams for a time,” warned the kindly man. “Her father beat her so often and so brutally that she was never truly free of pain or fear until she came to us.”

        “Did you kill him?”

        “She asked the gift for herself, not for her father.”

        “You should have killed him.” ADWD

        • Again I am treating the books and show as different stories. If you haven’t watched then comparing our opinions is fruitless.

          That said I still stand by ayra’s behavior as at least disturbed.

          It’s not sexism for pointing out that the manner of killing she partakes in is psychopathic. I never made that fact about gender. It wouldn’t change if she was a boy. The subtle sexism I’m referencing is the hatred Sansa gets for her feminine traits – vanity, emotional response, etc.

          Stabbing someone slowly through the neck and smiling after is psychopathic. Stabbing someone in the eyes before slitting their throat is psychopathic. She is clearly enjoying murdering.

          You can disagree all you want but that’s the truth of it. That her victims deserved to be punished is besides the fact. Plenty of people kill for justice but don’t enjoy it – like Ned.

          It’s still calculated murder that she enjoys. It’s not normal.

        • Just Me

          Yea it always kind of bothers me that Sansa fans always call Arya a sociopath. She kills people that have wronged her. Or people that she doesn’t know. Sansa on the other hand, though she is not actually killing someone herself, is sitting back and watching as Little Finger poisons her cousin. She rationalizes the murder of a child that she spends time with every day just so that she can become Lady of the Vale. It seems to me that it would be significantly harder to kill someone you know than someone that you don’t know. While I do see murder as troubling no matter the circumstance, Sansa seems way more sociopathic in her actions than arya ever has.

      • ShortMlee

        Where do you get the idea that Sansa is the “most hated character?” out of them all? No she’s not. MOST people love her, especially with how she’s grown as a character. And especially now in season 6 everyone is excited that she’s become a badass and wants to take back Winterfell.

        • Back when I wrote this (2 years ago) she was one of the most hated characters. People found her selfish and annoying. I agree that in recent times (especially last season) people are beginning to like her more since she’s growing a backbone and showing some mettle!

    • Jo

      Um, no, she didn’t betray anyone. Joff is a lying psycho and dear Ned was a fool to trust Cersei. And really, you’d rather Sansa tell the truth and get her own sister AND family in trouble?? Not to mention anger the most powerful family in the land, worse- her future in laws. Do you people criticizing everything she does ever even try to use logic or even read the books?

  • My pet theory is that Sansa is disliked because she believes *everything the audience believes* about how her world works.

    Sansa, and we, expect the noble knight (her father) to be rewarded for his nobility of character. Even before things change, the audience thinks the girl who believes in high fantasy plots will have some sort of epic disillusionment because we’ve come to expect it, because… um… we’ve read different high fantasy plots? But surely good old Ned won’t die! So when it happens, we are startled and mad and then sort of breathless because suddenly the story is so darn interesting and there Sansa is, reminding us all of that time when we thought, maybe, someone nice would live.

  • Nym

    All I can say is, you have a very wrong understanding of Arya’s character. You should try hitting the books again 🙂

    • My article was based on the show characterization of arya. I Haven’t finished the books and treat them as two separate stories.
      I only used the books to reference their ages

  • Chad

    Not having read the books yet. I’ll share a text I sent a friend after finishing season four
    “I’m worried bout arya. She has a high sense of righteous justice. But she’s so far into vengeance that there’s no room for compassion. I think by the time it’s over she’ll end up being a sell sword. But never being satisfied with it. In short. I think she’ll become the hound.”

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  • Anon

    For me, it was all decided in the first season:
    Sansa: where do you come from
    Septa: I come from a small-
    Sansa: wait, I don’t care…

    Ned: I’m sending you both home,
    Sansa: but what about Joffrey?!?
    Arya: are you dieing becaus of your leg!?!

    Thankfully, Sansa rally grew as a character and now. I think I turned with her when she was speaking with tyrion. I’m hoping for a good future for her. I still love arya though… And pity her…

  • Chris Read

    I love Sansa, I want to preg her.
    I like Arya too but in a diffrent way.

  • stacey

    Okay Izzie, it’s sort of obvious that you love Sansa more. I like both girls, but people comparing them has really made me not like one of them. I know people’s constant pinning them against each other shouldn’t change my opinion on characters it just IRKS me.