My dear friend the Lady Héloïse and her inestimable sister the Lady Catherine recently planted a delightful seed in my head following my defense of Sansa Stark entitled What Arya would have done in Sansa’s place. Why not do it the other way round? I jokingly responded that the post would only have to be three words long: ‘Scream. Cry. Die.’ But then I began to think, as I do sometimes. Actually lots of times. Sansa is as strong as her sister, so why shouldn’t this work? Here is the horrifying and somewhat wacky barrage of ifs, ands, pots and pans reflections on the events of A Clash of Kings only, since going any further would pose a serious threat to Her Ladyship’s sanity.
Being a boy
The first and most immediate problem is how a beautiful and very conventionally feminine girl like Sansa could possibly convince as a boy. There are many examples in literature, however, of even very feminine women passing for boys in a variety of circumstances, from The Merchant of Venice to Les Misérables, so such a thing must be possible, at least in the world of fiction. But could Sansa do it?
To start with, she would cry her eyes out about her hair being cut short, probably not at the moment of the actual shearing (she’d still be in shock), but plenty of times after that. Unlike her little sister, she has breasts, so these would have to be continually restrained: having to do this on the road with no privacy could be a massive problem, but then we should also consider that Arya doesn’t take a bath once while in the same situation, a strategy that Sansa would also be forced to adopt. To call attention away from her face, she’d also have to be extremely dirty and almost supernaturally inconspicuous: even the most basic conversation or movement could blow her cover wide open unless she’s continually on the alert, something that she simply won’t be accustomed to and might not have the energy to do. We do know, however, that Sansa is admirably good at keeping her mouth shut, and would therefore be a whole lot better at taking Yoren’s advice that she keep to herself and not speak to anyone than her fiery little sister. We should also consider that fear and brute survival make thespians of us all. Sansa is a smart girl, if not particularly observant, and she’d soon realise that it would be in her interest to try as hard as possible to keep up the charade. If she did not realise this, then Yoren would inevitably beat it into her. If this method worked with Arya (well, up to a point), then it’s not difficult to imagine that it would work with Sansa too.
On the road
Once she’s a boy, we need to think about how Sansa would adapt to life on the road, if she adapts at all. To give us a very general idea, let’s look at how Daenerys, of roughly the same age and social standing, coped with it at first after a lifetime of living in various palaces. Daenerys initially finds very little comfort in the considerable benefits of a tent at night, three Dothraki handmaidens to bandage her up, and horsemeat and sweetgrass on tap. She gets saddle sores that make dismounting and sitting down an agony, and endless blisters on her hands from holding the reins. But then she also has the comfort of Khal Drogo being a spectacular fuck, and the fact that she eventually gets used to being constantly on the move and even comes to relish it. We can put Sansa into roughly the same position: there’d be no fucking (sadly), but plenty of saddle sores from riding the mule and blisters on her feet from walking. She’d be absolutely miserable and would probably cry until she had no tears left. She’d soon recognise the need to stop crying following the inevitable ridicule and physical abuse from the other boys that would result and against which she’d be pretty much powerless, not having much of a will to fight back. Or she’d simply continue to cry and the whole situation would end with the boys somewhat morbidly accepting her constant tears, à la Weasel (the crying girl). A third possibility, and a bit of a foregone conclusion, is that Gendry would inevitably end up telling the others to lay off, him being a soft-hearted darling with a keen sense of justice, and that he’d probably take her under his protection, something that he tries multiple times with Arya with usually disastrous/hilarious results. Sansa’s first instinct would be to turn her nose up at him because of his low birth, but something tells me her circumstances wouldn’t permit this for long. Furthermore, if Gendry managed to work out that Arya was a girl, then doing it with Sansa should be child’s play. A fourth possibility is that Sansa’s wolf blood would emerge when stuck in a situation with people she’s allowed to hit without it being treason, and would eventually be pushed far enough to jump on someone and cause them grievous bodily harm. This would result in a beating from Yoren, but would also ensure that Lommy and Hot Pie leave her alone for the rest of her life. Whatever happens, constant tears, constant bullying and the horrifying memory of her father’s death would work havoc with Sansa’s untested fragility and she’d learn to take refuge in her mind very quickly, something that we know she’s prodigious at.
Assuming that she somehow survives the Night’s Watch’s skirmish with Ser Amory Loch and company, which would be almost impossible for her without help from Yoren or Gendry, the subsequent capture of the survivors would inevitably lead to her being exposed as a girl. Once this is revealed, it would take a miracle amount of mud on her face and in her hair to prevent her from being raped on multiple occasions, which would make her more emotionally-dead than murder and torture made Arya, because both her body and her soul will have been violated. The result, taking into account that the foundations of Sansa’s mental strength are sturdier than those of Casterly Rock, would be the emotional repression of her experiences and the creation of a dangerously numb individual who could explode at any second, exactly how dangerous her numbness is being contingent on whether or not she is sexually assaulted.
I subscribe to the ‘Jaqen is Syrio/the Faceless Men are watching Arya’ theory, so the chance of Sansa even meeting Jaqen is pretty slim. If we look at the situation outside this theory, however, it’s not difficult to imagine Sansa being induced into a conversation with him. Sure, she won’t detect the whiff of blood and death on him that attracts Arya, but Sansa is invariably good at detecting a handsome face. But would the acquaintance proceed beyond there? This depends on whether or not she decides to save Jaqen, Rorge and Biter, thereby instigating the three kills situation. So would she save them, were she in a position to do so? Personally, I think the answer is a bit of a no-brainer: Sansa has a good heart, and wouldn’t let anyone burn alive if she could do something to stop it.
But if Sansa has such a good heart, would she agree to return three lives to the Red God in exchange for those she stole? This depends on an awful lot of speculation based on more speculation done in the preceding paragraphs, but let’s give it a go. Sansa doesn’t have Arya’s eye-for-an-eye mentality, but if she’d been raped on the road, she simply wouldn’t be in a position to approach her experience with the awe-inspiring disinclination to murder or castrate her rapists that one sometimes sees in modern-day victims of rape. She will have experienced the horror and the sheer evil of what has been done to her with no chance of help, comfort or justice. If we think about how Joffrey narrowly escapes being pushed into the dry moat in A Game of Thrones, we can see that Sansa is all about taking revenge, and bloody revenge, if the motivation is strong enough. Jaqen can give her that revenge. If, on the other hand, she decides to use her kills to fry bigger fish, or if, by some miracle, she has escaped being raped, then that very same incident at the dry moat leaves us in no doubt that she’d be more than willing to wait as long as it takes and send Jaqen off to King’s Landing to murder Joffrey, Cersei, and probably Ilyn Payne as well.
It isn’t a stretch to imagine that Sansa’s attitude to being a servant at Harrenhal would be much the same as Arya’s: scrubbing floors till your hands bleed and getting the occasional clout around the head is better than being brutalised, but not so much better that escaping is not to be considered. We could also argue that the Sansa of the show would probably go red and pass out instead of protesting Gendry’s fighting technique while surreptitiously eyeing his abs, but let’s be serious now. First things first: would it occur to Sansa to use her three kills to blackmail Jaqen into helping her get the Northmen out of Harrenhal? Sansa isn’t the kind of person to actively chase down trouble, as Arya is. Furthermore, this particular incident positively sings of the natural creativity and ruthless cunning that are an integral part of Arya’s character, so no. Let us not imagine Sansa as a purveyor of Weasel Soup. But what about escaping? Arya’s escape with Gendry and Hot Pie in A Clash of Kings is an entirely spur-of-the-moment decision, arrived at when Arya, sparring with herself in the godswood, hears the sounds of wolves howling outside the castle walls and becomes convinced that they are calling to her. All the Stark children share this affinity with wolves, but Sansa is the least wargish among them because her direwolf is killed, thus cutting off the most basic mental link with wolves, and eventually with other creatures, that Arya and Bran both learn to exploit. Lady’s being a shade, however, doesn’t remove the primal connection with wolves that exists in Sansa, and it’s rather nice to think of both Stark girls being pushed towards freedom by that same affinity with the North that runs deep in both of them. Should we choose to be cynical, however, precisely the same type of escape (trick a groom, steal some swords and food, kill a guard) is possible on any night of the week, howling or not, and can be accomplished by any group of people with one individual of moderate intelligence among them. The murdered guard does pose a slight problem, as A Clash of Kings puts the knife that kills him in Arya’s hands. Would Sansa do it, though? Here’s the answer: Sansa would do it if she was desperate enough, Gendry’s Baratheon blood would probably make him cave the poor man’s head in with his hammer at the first sign of trouble, and Hot Pie, well…no. Hot Pie couldn’t kill anyone.
Here ends the craziness and the insanity. Valar Morghulis, all.
Featured image is by peteandco on fanpop.