Major spoilers ahead for ‘Game of Thrones’ S06E09 “Battle of the Bastards.”
This week’s Game of Thrones might just have been the most hyped episode in the show’s history, “Battle of the Bastards” was a tour-de-force, enormous in scope and breathtaking in execution.
It gave us everything we’d been waiting three seasons for: an epic battle between two large armies, thrilling one-on-one combat between a hero and a villain, a little heartbreak, a well-deserved victory and, most satisfyingly of all, the delicious sight of Ramsay Bolton being feasted on by his own, meat-deprived hounds.
But quietly, cleverly, “Bastards” did something more than just maneuver the pieces of the chess board of Westerosi politics back in the House Stark’s favor: It signaled the transformation of Sansa into a ruthless strategist. She may be a Stark in name, but this hardened incarnation of Ned’s daughter is beginning to look distinctly like Littlefinger’s greatest student.
There were three key developments in “Bastards” which signaled how far Sansa has come, and how far removed her mentality is from that of her elder brother. In the first, Sansa cuts short Ramsay’s negotiation with Jon, telling her husband in no uncertain terms that he’ll be dead within a day. Her parting shot, “sleep well,” drips with acid.
Back at Stark Camp, Sansa berates Jon for excluding her from strategy planning (“Did it ever occur to you that I might have some insight?”), but crucially decides not to inform him of her plea for Littlefinger to march on Winterfell.
By withholding information that could completely alter Jon’s strategy if everything was on the table, Sansa dices with the fates of thousands of Stark soldiers. What if Littlefinger didn’t show? The risk pays off, but it’s a gamble that’s not entirely hers to take, and by taking it Sansa displays a very Littlefinger-esque shrewdness of approach. Why does she trust him — the man who pushed her into marriage with a monster — over her own brother? It’s not emotional, but strategic.
Secondly, in the same scene, Sansa flatly declares that Rickon is as good as dead already. Ramsay stands to gain nothing from returning him, and therefore he won’t be returned in one piece. She’s proven right before the battle even begins. It’s more than just the product of her time spent at Ramsay’s side; she second-guessed the enemy’s tactics because she, too, has learned to think that way.
Sansa is now a slick political operator, her methods almost entirely unrecognizable from the honor that Ned Stark always preached. He would have lead a thousand soldiers into battle and allowed them all to die for the sake of returning Rickon safely. But while Jon resembles Ned in so many ways, Sansa feels much more like the product of the man who took her under his wing in Riverrun.
Finally, after feeding Ramsay to his own bloodthirsty hounds, Sansa turns to leave, but then pauses, fixing her gaze on her old tormentor a second or two longer. She takes pleasure in the most painful, most disgusting of deaths. The small smirk she allows herself as she walks away in the episode’s closing shot confirms what we already suspected: This grown-up, jaded version of Sansa Stark has a sadistic streak.
Is that more evidence of Littlefinger’s influence? Maybe, but I prefer to think of it as Ramsay’s final gift to his wife, the element of his dark and twisted soul that now lives on in a woman who, for the most part, is good. In his own words, “I am part of you now.”
Littlefinger is part of her now, too. And for that reason, Sansa Stark may be the smartest, most dangerous woman in Westeros. She learned from the best. Check out the trailer above for next week’s finale, when we’ll find out exactly what debt Sansa owes Lord Baelish.
You are the Princess Shireen of the House Baratheon, and you are my daughter.