Sansa Stark has had one of the most complicated journeys of any character on Game of Thrones. She's been both a (near) princess and a prisoner, suffered awful abuse and turned the tables on her enemies more than once. That she's survived this long feels like something of a miracle, given everything she's been through and all the things she's lost.
By the conclusion of Season 7, Sansa certainly seems to have grown into a competent, thoughtful leader who puts her family and her people first. But the eldest Stark daughter wasn't always so wise, and she had to go through a lot of pain and punishment to get to the place she is now. And she didn't always makes the best choices.
We take a look at five of the worst things that have happened to Sansa - and run down five of her worst decisions along the way.
10 Worst Experience: Lost Her Direwolf
Sansa Stark's trials - or bad luck if you want to call it that - start pretty early on. In Season 1, she loses her beloved direwolf, Lady, thanks to the awfulness of the Lannister family. After Arya's wolf attacks Joffrey, Cersei demands the animal be put down. But when Nymeria goes missing, Cersei happily settles for the death of a different direwolf - Sansa's.
Despite his daughter's protests, Ned executes Sansa's beloved pet himself, insisting that as she's from the North, she deserves a death with dignity. Given the deep connection between the Starks and their wolves, Lady's death is a massive loss for Sansa, and one that the show itself has never really addressed in full.
9 Worst Decision: Didn't Leave Kings Landing
During the first season of Game of Thrones, Sansa is often torn between the Starks and the Lannisters. Sure, she loves her family. But she also wants to marry a prince, and this dream often clouds her better judgment.
But even after it's obvious King's Landing is a dangerous place, Sansa refuses the chance to flee - not once, but twice! The Hound offers to take her north in the aftermath of the Battle of the Blackwater, but Sansa foolishly puts her hopes in the rumored arrival of Stannis Baratheon's army. And when Petyr Baelish offers to smuggle her to safety a season later, Sansa once again refuses to go. (Yes, yes, Littlefinger is creepy. And clearly too interested in the daughter of the woman he loved. But a chance to escape is a chance to escape!)
8 Worst Experience: Forced To Watch Her Father Die
Young Sansa Stark, she believes in the rules. In her world, courtesy always carries the day and everyone's expected to follow the established rules of honor. Her Game of Thrones journey completely disabuses her of her childish naivete. And that's largely thanks to the behavior of the monstrous Joffrey Baratheon. He terrorizes her both physically and emotionally, breaking every rule of courtesy and decorum in the process.
After Ned is arrested for plotting against the Lannisters - he's discovered that all three of Cersei's children were the products of incest and not heirs to the throne at all - Sansa begs for her father's life. She literally gets on her knees and cries and pleads with Joffrey for mercy. He promises to spare Ned, if he confesses his crimes and swears allegiance to his throne. Ned does all these things, and Joffrey kills him anyway,violating every rule of honor. He even has him beheaded right in front of a screaming, hysterical Sansa, who can do nothing to stop it. (Bonus awful points here for the fact that Joffrey later makes Sansa go stare at her dead father's head on a pike.)
7 Worst Decision: Lied About Her Aunt's Death
At the end of Game of Thrones Season 4, Littlefinger murders his new wife – and Sansa’s aunt – Lysa Arryn by pushing her through the Eyrie’s famous Moon Door. Sansa witnesses everything at the time. But when asked about what happened by Lord Royce and Lady Waynwood, she lies about Lysa’s fate. Rather than turn Littlefinger in, she covers for him instead. Sansa says her aunt was mentally unstable and that she took her own life.
On some level, you could argue this is a smart move. After all, as Sansa herself explains, at least she knows what to expect from Littlefinger. That’s not necessarily true for the Lords of the Vale, even though they might have protected her better, in the end. Either way, knowingly allowing your aunt’s murderer to go free (at least for several seasons’ worth of time) is a cold, cold move.
6 Worst Experience: Held Prisoner By The Lannisters
Following the murder of her father by Joffrey, Sansa becomes a virtual hostage in Kings Landing. Her family connections to the North make her a valuable pawn. And none of the Lannisters want her building relationships with anyone else.
Sansa finds herself trapped by Joffrey’s whims, as he debates whether to marry her, murder her, or something much worse. As a result, she must sit through endless dinners and court functions in which her family's deaths are mocked and her own safety threatened. Eventually, Joffrey forces her to marry his uncle, making her more of a Lannister prisoner than ever before. (And the fact that Tyrion is generally kind to her doesn’t actually make the situation any less horrible, just saying.)
5 Worst Decision: Turned Down Brienne of Tarth
While Sansa and Littlefinger are on the road north together, they unexpectedly run into Brienne of Tarth at an inn. Brienne declares herself loyal to Sansa, since she swore to her mother, Catelyn Stark, that she would protect her.
Unfortunately, Sansa heeds Littlefinger’s warning that she probably doesn’t particularly need or want a sworn sword who’s managed to let her two previous charges (Renly and Catelyn) die. She stubbornly refuses Brienne. What might have happened to Sansa had she accepted this offer of protection? Would she still have ended up in the hands of the Boltons? Or gone somewhere safer? Would Brienne have tried to take her to her sister? We’ll never know.
4 Worst Experience: Nearly Killed By A Family Member
For a girl who has lost so much family already, it’s obvious that Sansa was hoping to find something like a home and safety with her aunt Lysa Arryn after all her horrors in King's Landing. Unfortunately, however, Lysa views her niece as a rival and a threat as much as anything else.
While in the Eyrie, Petyr Baelish’s obvious interest in Sansa stokes the ire of her aunt, who’s just married him herself. (And really enjoys it, if their late night chorus is anything to go by.) Lysa’s jealousy quickly grows out of control, as she accuses her niece of sleeping with Littlefinger, threatens to have her killed and almost pushes her through the Moon Door during a struggle.
3 Worst Decision: Kept An Army-Sized Secret From Her Brother
During the infamous Battle of the Bastards, just when it looks like everything is lost for Jon Snow, Sansa arrives on the scene, backed by Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale. These additional forces completely sway the battle their way, and the Starks reclaim Winterfell at last. Great, right?
Well, mostly. The thing is, is that Sansa didn’t exactly tell Jon that she was sending her sketchy mentor off to fetch them more soldiers. And since she had multiple opportunities to do so, that had to be a purposeful decision. Was she really afraid the promised reinforcements wouldn’t show up? Or was she worried she wouldn’t get the credit when they did?
We have to assume that many Northerners died in the first part of the battle – likely needlessly – while waiting for Sansa’s army to show up. Did she use their lives for leverage? It kind of looks that way.
2 Worst Experience: Raped And Abused by Ramsay Bolton
Just when you think Sansa’s relationship track record can’t possibly get worse, Ramsay Bolton enters the picture. An abusive psychopath with an enormous chip on his shoulder over the fact that he’s illegitimate, Ramsay engages in every horrific action you can think of. He rapes Sansa every night, beats her regularly, keeps her prisoner in her own bedroom and murders anyone who treats her kindly.
Sansa’s treatment at his hands is so bad that she appears to contemplate ending her own life at one point – or at least comes to value it so little that leaping off one of Winterfell’s walls seems no great risk. And, as subsequent seasons progress, it’s easy to see from Sansa’s demeanor and clothing choices that she still carries the scars from her abuse with her.
1 Worst Decision: Fed Her Rapist To His Own Dogs
Sure, Ramsay Bolton was a monster whose death was extremely deserved. And there is a certain symmetry to his death. A terrible fate for a terrible person, delivered by the hand of the one he most wronged. But deserved or not, feeding someone to their own dogs feels a bit over the top, even for Game of Thrones.
Especially since, for much of the series, Sansa is presented as a sheltered, innocent girl. This list alone proves that’s not true, but the fact that she commits such a shocking act does feel like a line is crossed that the character may not be able to come back from. (It’s such a Littlefinger thing to do.)
Yes, it’s fun to talk about how satisfying this moment of revenge feels. But what does this choice mean for Sansa herself? When it comes to total Game of Thrones body count, she’s still at the low end of the scale, but it’s still a big, scary step for her. Maybe, in the end, it’s justice. But it also kind of looks like the kind of moral mistake that comes back to bite people later on.