Sansa Stark is many things.
She is the Lady of Winterfell, first and foremost; and it is not a title she takes idly- she is a Stark, the eldest living, and Winterfell is her home . Sansa has suffered for Winterfell, has bled and lied and mourned for it, and she will be it’s Lady until the day the Many-Faced God takes her away. (That day will not be soon. Sansa has heard of Arya’s adventures, has heard the motto her sister whispers like a prayer- what do we say to death? )
Not today, indeed.
In some ways, she is truly the last of the Starks. She lost her father to Joffrey’s cruelty, lost her mother and Robb to Walder Frey’s treachery, lost Rickon to Ramsay Bolton. (All she could see as the dogs tore him apart was little Rickon, Rickon who never had the chance to become cruel, Rickon who was the last good thing in Westeros. The dogs had not been punishment enough for Ramsay Bolton.) She has three siblings left alive, but there is something deep in Sansa’s soul that tells her no , they are no Starks.
Sansa lost Bran to the Three-Eyed Raven, to a power beyond every dream and nightmare she’s ever had. It’s hard to recognize her brother after so long apart, after so much on both sides of their stories- Bran, beyond the wall; Sansa, trapped within it. He isn’t a child, anymore, and neither is she, but Bran looks wise beyond his years and is distant, like he’s trapped in his own mind. (Sansa knows all too well what being trapped in one’s own mind is like. Bran does a much better job of hiding it than she did.)
Sansa doesn’t know if she ever really had Arya. When she casts her mind back, she remembers bickering and scathing comments and thinking her sister dirty, unkind, a wild little beast . Her father used to say she had the wolf’s blood in her, and Sansa would sniff about how unladylike it all was; how her sister’s love for grit and grime and fighting was the worst thing Sansa could possibly imagine. (She can imagine much worse things, now. She has lived through much worse than grit and grime and fighting.)
But Arya isn’t the same little girl, that wild little beast; now she is something much greater. She is wild, yes; she is beastly, yes. She killed all of House Frey and doesn’t flinch when she talks about it. A girl is no one , she says, spinning that deadly little blade in her hand. A girl is everyone , she continues, lunging and dodging and fighting Brienne like they’re on equal footing. A girl , she says, pointing her blade at Brienne’s throat, is Arya Stark.
Sansa is a rather fixed creature, she thinks. She will never lose her love of beauty, of grace, of the little things that make the world bright; despite the fact that these things have been rather rare, as of late. She will always be a Lady- it’s what she was born to do, who she is, not just a title but something engraved in her bones. The meaning of that title has changed, yes, but Sansa has not. She was Lady Sansa before Joffrey, before Tyrion, before Ramsay, before Littlefinger. She will be Lady Sansa long after Death comes for her. But Arya is a shifting creature, a walking lesson in fluidity, a girl and a wolf; a wild predator of a woman. Arya twists herself into new forms for every situation that comes for her, coiling and changing like water over stones. Sansa walks with her shoulders back, with her chin held high, with a rigidity that comes from practice. Arya moves like she’s dancing, lithe and nimble and half-cloaked in shadows.
Arya wasn’t ever hers to lose , per se; because Arya has never belonged to anyone but herself. (Sansa wonders, idly, if any man would ever be able to tame her beast of a sister. She thinks, smiling a private smile, that perhaps her sister will just have to find a man as wild as she is.) But Arya is loyal, more loyal than that wild little girl had ever been, and there is a part of her sister that understands and cares and hates right alongside Sansa. (Sansa tells Arya to kill him , staring Littlefinger in the eye, and her voice does not shake. Arya’s knife does not falter as she obeys.)
And that leaves… Jon. Sansa holds no pretenses of half-siblings or bastard anymore- she knows that it doesn’t matter, that it never mattered. Jon is the King in the North, her King, her brother, the one true King of Westeros. He is the second side of Arya’s coin- Arya is a Stark who only wanted to be free, and Jon has only ever wanted to be a Stark. Sansa could make him a Stark. (Jon could make himself a Stark.) But there’s something elegant to Jon Snow, King in the North, a bastard named King by the people rather than by blood. Sansa has had enough of pure-blooded men and their games and their lies, the petty little cruelties of their courts.
Jon is one of those good things she craved for so long, a light in the dark, a candle flickering in the window of a high tower. He is good and strong and true like the Kings of faerie tales, and she is proud to be his sister, blood and names be damned. She is a Stark and he is a Stark; Jon is a Snow and she is a Snow. Winterfell is yours , Sansa tells him, and there is something like pride , like revenge , like hope that curls dangerously at the back of her throat.
No , Jon tells her, rough-voiced and kind. Winterfell is yours .
Eddard Stark, killed on the word of Joffrey Baratheon. Robb Stark, killed by the dagger of Roose Bolton. Catelyn Stark, killed by the dagger of Roose Bolton. (Jon, to the blades of the Night’s Watch, brought back by something Sansa cannot bring herself to call wicked. ) Rickon, to Ramsay Bolton’s cruelty. Bran, to the lands beyond the wall, to the Magic of the Three Eyed Raven, to Jaime Lannister and the drop from a tower. Arya, to her father’s execution, to the Hound, to the Faceless Men and a girl who is nothing.
Sansa Stark, killed by the Lannisters, killed by Peter Baelish, killed by Ramsay Bolton, killed over and over by every man who thought she was something to own . Sansa, the Little Dove, the softer of the sisters, who let men who mean nothing tell her to kneel , as if she were some dog called to hell, as if she were something that could be tamed. Sansa Stark, killed by herself and left to bleed out in the echoing memories of everyone she used to be.
Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell. Sansa Stark, a wolf in her own right, a predator right next to her sister, some unfathomable creature next to her brother, a noble next to her king.
I must be as strong as my lady mother , Sansa once told herself. Now, she stands to welcome Daenerys Stormborn into her home, into her Winterfell, and she is straight-backed and proud. I must be as strong as myself , she thinks, lifting her chin to look the queen in the eye. For there is no wolf stronger than the Lady of Winterfell.