(AGAIN WITH THE SPOILERS!)
I spun this off into a separate post, because it just seems that important, somehow.
People hate Sansa Stark. Lots and lots of hate going around. Yet a Google search of “Sansa Stark hate” yields quite a few good posts in her defense. Her scene with Shae this week, to me, goes to the heart of this show’s overall conflict: people trying desperately to be themselves against the pressures of their regressive society.
Sansa Stark began the show, last season, as an entitled little shit. But she’s 13 years old, and has lived her whole life as the daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, with dreams of knights and heroes and princesses. She gets pledged in marriage to the king’s eldest son, meaning she will one day be queen.
And the king she’s going to marry turns out to be Joffrey.
It is not fair to call what happens to Sansa a “rude awakening,” unless you consider waking someone up with a flamethrower to be “rude.”
Shae, in marked contrast to Sansa, is a whore. I don’t mean that as an insult–it’s her job. In a way, Shae comes into this story with more freedom than the “noble” characters. She’s a foreigner, and it is not at all clear how she first came to Westeros. She was a “camp follower,” but it appears as though she could have refused Tyrion’s original offer. Once she signs on with him, she is promised gold and the wonders of King’s Landing, and all she has to do in return is fuck the Imp now and then (okay, a lot).
Once in King’s Landing, her life is in danger, considering Tyrion’s father specifically told Tyrion not to take her. Cersei will look for any way to gain an advantage over Tyrion, which is the more pressing danger to Shae’s life. Presumably because it would be too complicated in the television medium to hide her across town at Chataya’s, Tyrion hides her in plain sight in the castle. She avoids kitchen work by becoming Sansa’s handmaiden, except she clearly has no idea what she is doing.
Sansa treats Shae like shit. For someone as skilled at seduction (and therefore acting) as Shae, she is remarkably clumsy at filling the handmaiden role, treating Sansa without even a modicum of the deference Sansa has come to expect from servants. That’s the moment where a theme comes through: Sansa is being a shit to Shae, not so much because she is a shit, but because for one, shining moment, she can be a shit. This is a brief glimpse of Sansa’s old life coming through. Even if it was a life of snobbery and shallowness, it was a child’s life, and that was ripped away from her (cf. flamethrower reference.)
It reminded me of last season’s scene with Septa Mordane. She was answering a question for Sansa, when Sansa interrupted her to say she didn’t care. It was a callous, privileged, entitled, shitty thing for Sansa to do, and she did it because she could. As we all know, Septa Mordane marched directly into Lannister swords to allow Sansa to escape, even if Sandor Clegane caught her later. Septa Mordane gave more to Sansa than Sansa ever would have given to her. Shae would never do anything like that for Sansa. Sansa probably thinks she is a spy for the Lannisters (which she sort of is).
Sansa was a shit to Septa Mordane because she could be. She was a shit to Shae because, in her own way, she had to be, in order to hold onto a little bit of who she was.
If you are a Sansa hater, all I will say is this: don’t count her out just yet. She may never stop being a shit, but she represent us, the viewers, in quite a few ways. Honestly, how do you think you would respond if everything that has happened to Sansa happened to you?