This post contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones,” Season 8.
With the army of the dead and their in-need-of-moisturizer leader, the Night King, no longer a concern, let’s get to the business at hand: Who will sit on the Iron Throne?
“Game of Thrones” has been playing up the bona fides of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Cersei Lannister as potential rulers of the Seven Kingdoms. But another, less obvious contender is worthy of consideration: Sansa Stark.
Several things would need to go down for this to happen: Jaime Lannister could kill his sister/former lover, Cersei. Daenerys could die in battle. So could Jon Snow, or if he survives, he could abdicate, hand the reins over to Sansa and spend the rest of his life brooding over his terrible dating track record. Maybe Tyrion will end up as Sansa’s Hand, or even her husband (we did see some sparks fly in Sunday’s episode). Brienne of Tarth, the most trustworthy person around, could be in charge of Sansa’s Queensguard. Arya Stark could have a cool, secret solo assassin gig. And just leave Bran Stark in Winterfell (“there must always be a Stark in Winterfell” after all).
Taking the throne would be a full-circle moment for Sansa. When we first met her in Season 1, she was an innocent girl who wanted to hang out in King’s Landing, marry Joffrey and become queen.
She paid a very heavy price for her naivete. The Lady of Winterfell has arguably suffered more than any other major character (certainly more than any other living one) and has proved to be a resilient survivor.
We wouldn’t have blamed Sansa if those horrors — which we won’t recap here because they are plentiful and terrible — turned her into a vengeful ruler. But they didn’t. Instead, she is a stable and more-than-capable leader, one who doesn’t fly off the handle when faced with criticism and cares more about her people and family than exacting revenge. As she told Arya in Season 7, beheading and executing people may seem satisfying but that’s not how you keep factions together when you’re trying to fight a war.
That’s not exactly the attitude exhibited by, say, Daenerys, who has shown signs of Mad King-y tendencies.
Over eight seasons, Sansa has become well-versed in the treachery, lying and harm those with power are capable of rendering. Sure, she trusted the wrong people in previous seasons (although you could argue she had little choice but to accept Petyr Baelish’s help in escaping King’s Landing). But she’s knows better now.
“I’m a slow learner, it’s true,” she tells Baelish in Season 7, before his execution. “But I learn.”
The show’s writers have been dropping hints this season that Sansa is not to be overlooked. “Many underestimated you,” Tyrion Lannister tells her in the premiere. “Most of them are dead now.”
When Jon Snow dismisses Sansa’s skepticism of Daenerys, saying that the Lady of Winterfell thinks she’s smarter than everyone else, Arya responds: “She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met,” of Sansa, which is a super nice sisterly compliment, but also calls back to how Sansa described Arya in the previous season. “You’re the strongest person I know,” Sansa told Arya then, a statement that Arya demonstrated well when she killed the Night King.
Sansa proved her smarts as the only major character who immediately doubted Cersei’s pledge of support in the fight against the dead — and that included the Lannister brothers who should know Cersei better than anyone. In the season premiere, Sansa tells Tyrion that she once considered him to be the most clever man she knew, but he’s now basically a dummy for believing the Lannister forces were en route.
Underestimating Cersei will be a huge liability in the upcoming fight for power. And Sansa knows not to do that.
While Sunday’s episode had Sansa retreating — at Arya’s wise orders — to the crypts, Sansa does have an eye for military strategy that relies on evaluating the psychology of her opponent. In the Battle of the Bastards, she showed herself to be a better military tactician than Jon, knowing that Ramsay Bolton wouldn’t fall into the trap that Jon intended to set. It was her secret appeal to Littlefinger that saved the day.
Sunday’s episode also demonstrated that prophecies and predictions we’ve seen in previous seasons are finding their fulfillment now. So let’s not dismiss a flashback scene from Season 5, in which a brash young Cersei has her fortune read by a witch, Maggy the Frog.
In that scene, Cersei declares she has been promised to prince Rhaegar Targaryen. “You’ll never wed the prince,” Maggy says. “You’ll wed the king.” True, and true — Cersei didn’t marry Rhaegar, but rather Robert Baratheon, who became king.
“You’ll be queen, for a time. And comes another, younger, more beautiful to cast you down and take all you hold dear,” Maggy continues. “The king will have 20 children. And you’ll have three . . . Gold will be their crowns. Gold, their shrouds.”
While Cersei was confused by that childbearing calculus, it added up: Robert would have several dozen children out of wedlock, while Cersei and her brother Jaime would have three children. They have all since died (“gold, their shrouds”).
Cersei did become queen through her marriage, and back in Season 5, viewers likely interpreted the line about a younger and more beautiful “to cast you down and take all you hold dear” as a reference to Margaery Tyrell. We all know what happened to her (RIP), and a dethroned Cersei became queen again. And while Maggy’s fortune could also refer to Daenerys, that also feels too predictable for a show known for its curveballs.
The younger and more beautiful one to cast Cersei down could very well be Sansa.
But perhaps Sansa’s best qualification for taking the Iron Throne is she’s highly adept at the less glamorous aspects of ruling. Do you know how many spreadsheets would be required to coordinate the housing, food and fuel accommodations needed to keep an army of people alive and fed through a long winter? Sansa seemed to be the only one concerned with this!
Handling logistics is a very underrated quality in a queen. But as we’ve seen in previous seasons, overlooking the money and food parts of running a kingdom can lead to your downfall.