Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dark Sansa Needs a Nightlight

I love Game of Thrones. I really do. It fills a fantasy-shaped hole in my heart (and TV viewing schedule) I scarcely knew existed before it came along. But it's because I love the show that I feel the need to point out what it could do better. So I'm weighing in, and I'm starting with the latest and most controversial move the show has made: the rape of Sansa Stark..

Now, before you start groaning and asking me, "Didn't you know this was a bleak show when you started watching?", let me point out that I don't object to rape being included in the plot. Craster's daughters were raped by their father and by the men of the Night's Watch, and while I did not find that pleasant, I accepted it because it made sense for the story they were trying to tell. But the problem with what happened to Sansa isn't so much that it's upsetting (though it is). The problem is that it's crappy writing.

Just as recently as the end of the last season, the show made a promise to us in the form of Sansa Stark sweeping down a staircase, looking like a Goth empress ready to enter the game and destroy the hearts of her enemies. It was a glorious transformation for the weak, wide-eyed girl from Winterfell who once thought being Joffrey's queen was the realization of all her fondest dreams. Having had those dreams ripped down around her ears via her father's execution and Joffrey's sadistic abuse, we finally saw her emerge from the ashes like an elegant, dark-clad phoenix. She made the decision to lie and protect Littlefinger, who she judged to be her best ally, and apprenticed herself to him to learn how to play the game. She showed agency and cleverness in this, as Littlefinger is one of the game's most astute players, and one uniquely susceptible to Sansa's charms based upon his fondness for her late mother.

When Sansa found out that Littlefinger had arranged for her to marry Ramsey Bolton, she was justifiably freaked out and confused, as was I. Why on earth would she want to marry the son of the man who killed her mother and brother? But when Littlefinger explained that it was a way for her to wreak revenge, I was somewhat mollified. Now, I supposed, we would finally see Dark Sansa in action. There was further support for this notion when Sansa was reminded by an old serving woman in Winterfell that "the North remembers," and that she had supporters. In my head, I began to have glorious visions of a Stark coup as our clever young lady played upon the anger and sympathy of the Stark loyalists to bring down the man who murdered her family. 

Then Ramsey started torturing her emotionally at dinner, trotting out Theon and having him apologize for murdering her brothers before deciding that Theon would walk her down the aisle at her wedding. "Well," I thought, "this is just stoking the fire. It's just going to make her angrier and hungrier for revenge, to be reminded of what she lost and who she lost it to." But I felt a little dubious. I mean, things weren't looking good, and I still didn't see any signs of Sansa's grand plan taking shape. She had to have one, though, right? I mean, otherwise, why wouldn't she have just lit the damn candle that she knew could summon someone to help her? "No," I assured myself, "she's definitely building to something."

Then she married Ramsey and he raped her while Theon watched. And our next episode shows her curled up in the fetal position, under lock and key, forced to piteously implore Theon to light the candle because Ramsey's been raping and hurting her nightly.

And that's when my temper finally snapped. 

Really? I mean, really? You're telling me that after all this Dark Sansa crap, all this apprenticeship to Littlefinger, and all these apparent decisions she's been making to land herself here, she's back to just wilting in a corner while she's abused by a sadist? Given that she's looking to be extricated from her situation via the candle, it's pretty clear that she doesn't have any long game here. Which basically begs the question of why she didn't light the f--king candle in the first place, back when she could move about freely and before she was cruelly deflowered? Why would she go through this when she didn't have to unless she had a plan? But how could she have had any kind of plan if she's just flailing helplessly to try and get the candle lit at this point?

So basically, Dark Sansa wrote a check that this story couldn't cash. Instead of signalling her rise to try her hand at the tricks and manipulations of the game, it was basically just a stopover on her round trip back to being Helpless Victim Sansa. Which I wouldn't have been half as angry about if they hadn't promised me more. 

Ultimately, I need movements in a story to mean something. As my beta reader will tell me, I shouldn't write things into a novel that I don't plan on doing anything with, because it's a good way to build up reader expectations without any payoff AND waste precious space. And in a TV show with a hundred freaking characters, they really don't have the space to waste. So I devoutly hope that in the future, the show plans out narrative arcs for the character that follow a path that offers some form of payoff, instead of doing loop-de-loops in the plot parking lot until people get bored and annoyed and start wandering off. If you promise me a player, then you better let her play the damn game.