Sansa Stark has come a long way since Game of Thrones first began. Gone is the selfish, little girl who cared only about her image, which prince she would marry and where she would reign as queen. In her stead is a wise and determined young woman who’s been hardened by suffering and loss. She’s witnessed the beheading of her father, Ned Stark, been betrothed to two abusive men and lost nearly her entire family to the massacre of the Red Wedding. But Sansa still stands, stronger than ever.
In the most recent episode of Thrones, Jon Snow leaves Sansa in charge of the Stark family’s home of Winterfell, making her the interim Queen of the North while her cousin (who she believes is her half-brother) ventures out to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys Targaryen. It’s the culmination of a years-long arc for Sansa, who’s gone from victim to victor.
And because she’s currently in a position of power — and because we’re running an ongoing series on how different characters could end up sitting on the Iron Throne — now’s as good a time as any to determine Sansa’s path toward ruling over the entire realm. Here’s how she could pull it off.
Step 1: Prove she can rule
In order for Sansa to make it back to King’s Landing and sit on the Iron Throne, she first has to prove herself as a ruler in Winterfell. As Queen of the North, she must inspire others to follow her not because Jon Snow told them to, but because she’s worthy of their trust.
Sansa has been quietly observing the various kings and leaders she’s known throughout her life. She mentions to Jon she’s learned a great deal from Cersei and warns the new King of the North not to be as naive as their father was. But Sansa needs to find a middle ground somewhere between the two: not as cold and vengeful as Cersei, and not as trusting as Ned Stark.
Step 2: Pander to Littlefinger
Lord Petyr Baelish was hopelessly in love with Sansa’s mother, Catelyn Stark, and after her death he directed his affections toward young Sansa — a fact that, while gross, could play in her favor. He controls the armies of the Vale and has influence over a host of powerful people. Sansa clearly has no intentions of returning Littlefinger’s love, but if she hopes to reach the Iron Throne she’ll need his help.
The best move would be for Sansa to play Littlefinger like he played Lady Regent of the Vale, Lysa Arryn. The duplicitous schemer strung Lysa along, leading her to believe that he was in love with her — a ruse Littlefinger kept up right until the moment he pushed her through the Moon Door, sending her plummeting to her death. Just as Lord Baelish beguiled Lysa, Sansa must charm the charmer.
Step 3: Leverage her name
The Stark name is an ancient one. The noble house is one of the original Great Houses of Westeros and its ancestors ruled as kings for thousands of years. It was only relatively recently, during Aegon’s Conquest, that the power shifted. But in the eyes of most lords there’s only one name they recognize as rulers of the North: Stark.
Because Sansa’s family name holds incredible importance, she should lean on her lineage to continue establishing her power. The best tactical move here would be for Sansa to begin changing the narrative surrounding the Iron Throne. Stop talking about Daenerys Targaryen, forget about Cersei Lannister and remind people that Starks hold the true claim to the Iron Throne.
When Jon returns from Dragonstone, Sansa needs to solicit his support in her quest for the Iron Throne. It’s unlikely Jon has any ambitions of taking the Iron Throne for himself since he’s repeatedly expressed his discontent at being King of the North — if he’s unhappy ruling Winterfell, he’d be miserable lording over the Seven Kingdoms. With Jon behind her effort — someone who’s built quite a reputation for himself and commands widespread respect — Sansa would only strengthen her claim.
Step 4: Get hitched
Marriage has always been a diplomatic way to merge power, and exchanging vows with the right person would help Sansa get closer to the Iron Throne. With all the death and carnage that has transpired over the past six seasons, the pickings are slim, but there are still a few single men of noble blood left in the realm: Bran Stark, Jon Snow-Stark-Targaryen and Gendry Snow-Baratheon.
Since Bran is Sansa’s full brother and Jon has been raised as her half-brother (but is really her cousin), Gendry is the only viable option left. He’s the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, so his name isn’t as strong as a legitimate heir, but he could still be a valuable asset to Sansa; this could be an opportunity for the Starks to form a union with the Baratheon bloodline and make good on the line of succession that should’ve happened when King Robert died back in season one.
The issue here, though, is that no one knows where Gendry is — he was last spotted in season three, rowing away from Stannis and the Red Woman after his royal blood was literally leeched from his body. But if anyone can find him, it’s Lord Baelish, one of the most well-connected people in all the realms.
Tasking Littlefinger with locating Gendry poses a bit of a conundrum: Why would he bring Sansa a viable groom when he himself wants her as his bride? The only way this works is if Sansa beats Littlefinger at his own game. She’ll have to use cunning and wit to manipulate him into action, laying out some kind of intricate lie.
Perhaps she can convince him that marrying Gendry will cement the couple’s case for taking control of the Seven Kingdoms once they overthrow Cersei; then they can both eliminate Gendry, which would leave Sansa a widow on the Iron Throne, available to take a new husband. Of course, she doesn’t have to go through with all of this — once Sansa gets what she needs from Littlefinger, she could just give him the Moon Door treatment.
Step 5: Usurp Cersei
Once Sansa has enough momentum on her side, she can take King’s Landing. But even with the armies of the Vale and all the banners of the North, dethroning Cersei by force would be a difficult and bloody endeavor. Instead of seizing the Iron Throne with military force, Sansa should focus on a political coup. With Littlefinger’s influence and Gendry at her side, it’s entirely possible she could make it happen.
Cersei isn’t the rightful ruler and has enemies throughout the entire realm, even within her own ranks. Sansa just needs to nudge things in the right direction.
Step 6: Defeat Dany
Getting to the Iron Throne will be far easier than staying there. Daenerys is going to attack Westeros regardless of who’s ruling it — and with an army of Unsullied, Dothraki, freed slaves and dragons, she’s a formidable force.
But while Sansa lacks traditional warfare training, she’s already displayed her tactical prowess during the planning stages of the Battle of the Bastards. She knew Jon’s assault wouldn’t work on Ramsay — he was too brutal of a combatant and in too advantageous of a position to be lured out by Jon. So she called in the armies of the Vale, turning certain defeat into resounding victory.
And Daenerys just made a critical mistake in tasking Yara and her Iron Fleet to ferry Ellaria and her Sand Snakes to Sunspear, to collect the Dornish army before attacking King’s Landing. Yara’s course put her in the crosshairs of crazed villain Euron Greyjoy — and because Yara didn’t have the Dornish army with her, Euron was able to capture her and decimate her armada.
Now, while it’s true that Dany has the advantage when it comes to numbers, the size of an army isn’t everything. Leadership and perceptions of legitimacy play a huge role as well — so far, Sansa is trending in the right direction in both respects.
Sansa’s path to the Iron Throne would be one filled with deception and betrayal. In order to succeed, she’d have to completely sacrifice the principles she learned from her father and employ the lessons she’s gleaned from Cersei and Littlefinger. This young Stark has been under the tutelage of a few different types of rulers; it remains to be seen whose footsteps she’ll follow.
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