On Thursday, George R.R. Martin saw fit to bless us with another chapter of the long-awaited The Winds of Winter. Most recently, we received word of what one Stark daughter was doing when we met a little mummer called Mercy who only shows her wolf colors when murdering the man who had killed her friend Lommy.
Now it’s the elder daughter’s turn, with Sansa- still in hiding as Alayne Stone, bastard daughter of Littlefinger- preparing for a tourney held in the Vale. In this chapter, she meets her next betrothed- Harry the Heir. Throughout the chapter, we find Sansa doing something she has only started recently- playing the game. Calmly but firmly refusing Sweetrobin’s awkward pre-adolescent advances toward her, she manages to turn his words around into an insult, providing herself an opportunity for a graceful exit.
Like her sister, Alayne is firmly “Alayne” here, never going by Sansa, and only slipping up occasionally in her thoughts, calling Lord Eddard Stark her father before correcting her own thoughts, and remembering Robb when meeting a man of the same age. We also find Alayne happy for the first time in ages, able to act the part of her father’s daughter. We also find out the tourney she is witnessing the preparation for was her own idea. Throughout the chapter, Alayne is many things Sansa has never been- witty, quick, sly, and proactive, to name a few, although she is still watching every word she says. She has learned to watch her words and conceal her emotions when needed.
We also receive some insight into Alayne as student of Petyr Baelish, as he highlights Harry the Heir’s weaknesses and coaches her on how to use her placement at the feast to her advantage. Sansa is motherless, and Petyr is teaching her how to deal with men not as someone’s future wife romantically, but as a political seductress. Sansa understands exactly why Harry the Heir is important to wed, and has less romantic notions than the little girl who once fell in love with Joffrey Baratheon.
But what does all this mean? It means that the Stark daughters are becoming survivors, in different ways. Arya works outside the system, but Sansa works from within. Think Batman vs. Jim Gordon. Both are fighting for the same goal, but in wildly different ways. Arya’s other motivation is revenge, while Sansa seems to bear the Lannisters no real ill will. She calls Joffrey a monster, but remembers Tyrion as being kind. Sansa’s other goal seems to be getting home to Winterfell, able to rebuild. Marrying Harry the Heir provides that goal, and she is happy to do it. She still believes one thing from her childhood: courtesy is a lady’s armor.
The sisters are different even in their similarities. One is living in the past through her quest for revenge, while the other can only survive by moving forward. Though Arya is trying to become No One, Sansa really has successfully buried her identity, rising to prominence in the Vale as Baelish’s bastard. Sansa blends in by standing out, becoming the fallen Princess of another kingdom instead of the mummer/ assassin her sister becomes to survive.
Little Northern Princess Sansa is becoming a woman, and her confidence is apparent throughout the chapter, breaking only in her brief scene with Petyr in the crypts. The last line shows how self-assured Alayne has become. After denying Harry the Heir her favor to wear in the tourney, she tells him it’s promised to another, and then thinks: “She was not sure who as yet, but she knew she would find someone.” She is confident in her beauty, and knows she can use it to manipulate Harry and other knights if need be. Sansa was a pawn. Alayne is an emerging player.
Which way will prove successful? Only George RR Martin knows. But I’m excited to see what is in store for both sisters when book six arrives (next year?!)