The seventh season of Game of Thrones has begun, with an impending conflict between two Queens - Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) - over the coveted Iron Throne of Westeros. Meanwhile, though war with an invading horde of White Walkers is imminent, the seat of Winterfell has achieved a stability not seen since Ned Stark (Sean Bean) was Warden of the North. After defeating Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) in the Battle of the Bastards, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was declared King in the North by his loyal bannermen. Finally, a Stark once again rightfully rules Winterfell. Except not really.
There is a Stark in Winterfell, but she doesn't rule her family's ancestral lands. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is a true born Stark, unlike her brother Jon, who still believes himself to be the bastard son of Ned Stark. However, as we definitively learned last season, Jon Snow is actually a Targaryen; his father is Rhaegar Targaryen and his mother is Lyanna Stark, Ned's sister. Jon has less of a claim to Winterfell than Sansa or Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who is the magical Three-Eyed Raven and aware of Jon’s true lineage. But even without this knowledge, why exactly is Jon Snow the King in the North? Why isn't Sansa Stark instead the Queen in the North?
Sansa has had one of the most perilous lives of any character of Game of Thrones. In the first season, Sansa was the Stark whom even die-hard fans and supporters of the House of Direwolves hated. She was selfish, small-minded, and prized her betrothal to then-King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) over loyalty to her own family. Her reward was years of being held hostage by the Lannisters and torturous emotional and physical abuse by Joffrey and his mother Queen Cersei. Even when she escaped King's Landing with the help of Lord Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen), she was in his thrall before he essentially gave her to Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay married her for her name and claim to Winterfell before raping her. However, Sansa's arduous trials not only made her grow stronger and more resilient as a person, it gradually won her the love of Game of Thrones fans.
Yet even with the affection and loyalty Sansa commands from the Northerners loyal to the Starks, she doesn't get to rule the kingdom in her father's name. The patriarchal rules of Westerosi society immediately and unfairly overlooked Sansa in favor of Jon. This is a strange hypocrisy. More than the other people of Westeros, the Northerners cling most strongly to the "old ways," down to still worshiping the Old Gods. Their rigid dedication to their ancient traditions should have disqualified Jon as King of the North in favor of Sansa, who is a Stark of true blood. However, Jon enjoys one apparently unassailable advantage: Jon is male, and that trumps the very idea of Sansa being Queen over a bastard who even once refused Stannis Baratheon's offer to raise him to the Stark name. It's no wonder Sansa openly bristles at Jon being named King and getting to rule while she is relegated to the sidelines.
The patriarchy being maintained in the North is even more unfair and disheartening when weighed against the sweeping changes happening all over Westeros. Women are asserting power all over the country. In Dorne, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) gained control of her kingdom in a bloody coup. Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns (Diana Rigg), is now the sole Tyrell ruling Highgarden. The battle for the Iron Throne will be between two dominant and powerful women who have struggled their entire lives - though by very different methods - to be respected as the Queens they are. Sansa's sister Arya (Maisie Williams), having survived her own life of hardship and peril, is on a personal quest of vengeance to systematically eliminate those who have wronged the Stark family. Even in the North, Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), though not yet a teenager, has earned respect for her fierceness and courage. However, even in this revolutionary environment, Sansa finds herself painted into a corner - though perhaps it's these winds of change that are frightening the Northmen and making them cling to the "old ways" even further.