In my opinion, two of the most fascinating character arcs in Game of Thrones came from Daenerys and Sansa. Both are younger sisters of men who would claim the title of king, officially and unofficially, both endured horrific abuse and events we thought would break them only for them to come out stronger. Both of them would become the Queen they dreamed of being, even if for one of them it would be short lived.
Daenerys, Sansa, and Power
As the show was airing, I would read the discourse around Daenerys as a queen, Cersei as a queen, and how they compared to each other. Especially as the series began to wind down, more and more was the discussion being had about Daenerys right/ability/experience in being Queen and how that would impact a world we had already seen go through so much. Yet Sansa again and again was being relegated to the background, very few willing to imagine seeing her in a position of power like that whether because of their own distaste for her character or because they didn’t see her as a ruler. One of the only times I saw her being seriously discussed as Queen of anything by fans came because everyone seemed to agree that anyone else would have been a better choice than Bran. And again, when it came to Sansa and power, it was called into comparison with Cersei, even in the show itself. We are constantly shown Sansa as powerless in the events both large and small, while Daenerys has power oozing from every pore.
What I want to see, is the discourse that surrounds the duality of Daenerys and Sansa’s characters. Thought they don’t meet until the final season, both their arcs mirror each other uncannily. There is a duality there that is impossible to ignore, and in examining it we can shed further light into the actions and behaviors of two of Westeros’ Queens.
Younger Sisters of Kings
Both Daenerys and Sansa are younger sisters to two older brothers who gained and lost crowns. Daenerys’ older brothers were Rhaegar and Viserys, for whom she names two of her dragons that she also ends up losing. Rhaegar was set to be the next king of Westeros before he was killed by Robert Baratheon in battle, and Viserys was killed by Khal Drogo for threatening Daenerys. Neither brother lived to claim their crown, leaving it to their sister.
Similarily, Sansa’s older brother Robb and Jon (ignoring that Jon is actually her cousin) were both crowned Kings in the North, and both lost them as well. Robb lost his in death and Jon gave it up willingly for a greater purpose, just as he would later reject the crown of Westeros upon discovering his lineage. While absent during Robb’s reign, Sansa proved herself to the North during Jon’s by taking up the tasks that would have fallen to him so that he could deal with the fight against the Night King and his army.
From a storytelling perspective, the fates of their brothers seems to foreshadow and inform the sisters. Daenerys is never officially crowned as Queen of Westeros either, and if one were to add Jon to the Targaryen side, he too never gains it. Yet he does accept the crown of the North as Robb does, and later Sansa succeeds them both as Queen in the North. In this way we can see that perhaps there never was any intention by the writers or George R.R. Martin, the author of the books, to restore the Targaryen line to the throne. It was always about restoring the Starks to the throne in the North.
Rule through Fear, Rule through Honor
Game of Thrones set Daenerys up as a Queen who would rule through fear from the beginning, while Sansa, though childishly naive at first, was set up as a character of honor. The Starks are all about honor, so when things quickly began to spiral for Sansa in the Capital she met Joffrey’s taunts and abuse with a steel spine no one expected. She acted as was expected of her, and learned to play the game to keep herself safe. She never acted underhandedly or betrayed the people who placed their trust in her in the way that Littlefinger or Cersei might, though the audience was being persuaded to believe it. She did as honor demanded.
Daenerys meanwhile, used her dragons left and right to cow people into surrendering to her. When someone would oppose her or speak out against her, she would burn them alive. In the end people followed her, not because they respected her but because they feared her. Characters like Missandei and Greyworm can say differently because they were treated favorably by her, allowed to spend time with her to get to see that side of her. But to the everyday person, she was someone to be feared. Yes she ended slavery in Essos, and that’s admirable but there is little evidence that she did anything else to help them. What were they meant to do now that they were free? Where did they go? How would they survive? Unlike Sansa who made sure provisions were in place to keep the North going against Cersei and the Night King and the addition of finding resources for Daenerys army. Even the Dothraki only followed her because she burned the Khals to death in Vaes Dothrak, and their culture demands loyalty to the person who kills the previous khal. So when she tells Jon that she’ll rule through fear, it’s really no different to how she was ruling before in Essos.
Daenerys is powerful and badass, but it takes more than that to be a good ruler. Sansa’s methodical and forward thinking approach was meant to highlight the disparity between their ruling styles. In doing so it brings to light just how unprepared Daenerys is to rule.
Queens of Westeros
As the presumptive Queen, we expected Daenerys to succeed and win the throne she’d been fighting for since the first season. In her naivety, we expected Sansa to fall victim to the brutality that follows the game of thrones. In their duality we can see them each take on the attributes of the other that strengthened or weakened them in the fight for the throne. Daenerys is strong but also painfully naive. Sansa is naive but unexpectedly strong. There are clues peppered thoughout the series that points to their duality, and that the fate we expected of one is actually the fate of the other. Both are necessary to tell the story of the other.