Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 7 recap

Last week Sansa suffered marital rape and it set off a big controversy, as rape scenes on this show always do. A lot of that is because in the past this show has not done well by these storylines, too often reducing rape to a plot point, or worse, mere background action. But we don’t know the full context of Sansa’s suffering, and we likely won’t as her storyline continues to unfold in the coming weeks, even years. For instance, Daenerys’s own rape has, over years, been contextualized by Daenerys becoming a woman of great sexual agency—she went from a trinket sold by her brother to a woman who commands her own lovers and even her new husband. In the long run, Daenerys’s arc has played out in such a way that her sexual agency is one of the determining factors of her growth—she has fully transgressed the system that would oppress her as mere property of the strongest male.

But Sansa is not the Khaleesi. Her arc is still, well, arcing. She’s on the upward slope, working her way to full power. Over this season and the last, she has gained more and more agency, until she is left standing on her own, expected to uphold her own ends for a while by her mentor. But Littlefinger and Sansa both gravely miscalculated with the Boltons. They both expected Sansa to marry Ramsay, and Sansa seemed willing enough to deal with reality of that—there is no version of this story in which she does not lose her virginity to Ramsay—but they didn’t do the math right and the price Sansa pays is far higher than expected. This isn’t a setback of her character, this is a TEST. How Sansa reacts is as much a determining factor as it was for how Daenerys reacted.

Daenerys reacted by making the best of her situation, as countless untold women in the Middle Ages did in the real world—and even Catelyn Stark in this fantasy world. Catelyn didn’t know Ned before they married, she wasn’t in love with him, she may not even have been attracted to him, and yet they married and she slept with him, whether she wanted to or not. In contextualizing Sansa’s current storyline, you can’t separate these factors out. This fantasy world is very much based on the real world of the Middle Ages, a world that was not kind to women. While the show has an agency problem when it comes to its female characters, one consistent thread is that the women who occupy Westeros must consistently and repeatedly transgress against the patriarchy under which they live.

The way those transgressions are depicted is not consistent, which is why feminine suffering on Game of Thrones is so consistently at issue, but we don’t know yet how Sansa’s storyline plays out. Right now, she’s in a position to start a rebellion that could change the power structure of all Westeros, and she has no reason to wait for Littlefinger. That’s the thing everyone seems to miss—had Ramsay treated her gently, Sansa would just have waited until Littlefinger told her what to do next. But now she has an urgent reason to want to put an end to Ramsay, and she knows she has allies out there. Whatever Sansa does next, it will be HER doing. Littlefinger is now irrelevant, she’s not following his script anymore. From this moment forward, Sansa Stark is acting as and for Sansa Stark, without regard to the vendettas and machinations of others. She’s now standing on the same stage as Daenerys and Cersei, which is a huge leap forward for her character.

Elsewhere: A Direwolf appears!, Samwell gets some, everything at Winterfell is awful, of-f*cking-course Theon is completely useless, Daario has terrible ideas but gives good advice (feed everyone to your dragons, Khaleesi!), Lady Olenna meets her match but Littlefinger is still useful, Tommen is a f*cking idiot, those Sand Snakes are DEVIOUS, having the plague has made Jorah super desperate, TYRION AND THE KHALEESI MEET STOP THE PRESSES, Cersei is f*cked, oh let’s be honest everyone is f*cked, Team Dragon for life.

Next Week: Back to the Wall, who even likes it there?