Sansa Stark has tumbled helplessly from one torturer to the next for four seasons now, from Joffrey and Cersei’s abuse and humiliation, to her Aunt Lysa’s unhinged jealousy, to Ramsay Bolton’s gleeful sadism. With the way things are going, the beatings and torture that Ramsay inflicted on Jeyne Poole in George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons now seem a natural storyline fit for Game of Thrones’ walking misfortune magnet—which is the last thing Sansa deserves.
In Sunday night’s episode, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Sansa and Ramsay were finally wed, in keeping with Littlefinger and Roose Bolton’s political maneuverings. Within moments, any notion that the bastard would treat his new wife with any semblance of human dignity went flying out the castle window. He forced Reek to watch as he ripped Sansa’s (lovely) wedding gown apart and shoved himself inside her. The last sounds we hear before the screen fades to black are Sansa’s sobs. This is how she loses her virginity.
It’s a gruesome scene. We get it: Ramsay is the new Joffrey. But when is all this pain and misery going to transform the eldest surviving Stark into anything more than a damsel in distress? She got a Goth makeover, a badass new attitude, and has a network of Winterfell servants willing to come to her aid. Is she ever going to help kill any of these sickos? Or will she take the Jeyne Poole route and just stand by for help, again?
Season 5 for Sansa fans has felt like a never-ending wait for Sansa to take matters into her own hands. OK, so she doesn’t have the best track record. In Season 2, Sansa became a glorified hostage in King’s Landing, where she was denied her own identity: She was forced to wear Lannister clothing, denounce her family as traitors, and profess undying love for her psychopathic King Joffrey. A scene that felt excruciating at the time looks tame compared to what Sansa endured last night:
“Leave her face; I like her pretty,” Joffrey had said, as he ordered Meryn Trant to strip Sansa naked and beat her in front of his entire court, supposed retribution for her brother Robb’s recent military win. Sansa quivered and cried until someone else—her future husband, Tyrion— intervened.
After she was married off to Tyrion, she obediently offered him her body, which he respectfully refused (because, you know, she was only 14). Cersei thinks Sansa then “helped murder” her son, but of course Sansa had almost nothing to do with it. She unwittingly wore a necklace containing poison that Lady Olenna Tyrell slipped into Joffrey’s wine, making her, yet again, just a passive observer in her own affairs. Once Littlefinger whisked her away to the Eyrie, she became a pawn in his bid for the Iron Throne.
Pawn, captive, eternal sufferer. At this point, Sansa may be the only character who still, five seasons in, is so damn helpless. (Except for Tommen, maybe? God help that kid.) Sure, she’s a medieval girly-girl. (Never forget: “I’m supposed to marry Prince Joffrey. I love him! I’m meant to be his Queen and have his babies!” she once yelled at Ned back in Season 1). But femininity has never precluded agency in Westeros. (See: Margaery Tyrell and Daenerys Targaryen.) When will she shed her “bystander to tragedy” designation and rip the Boltons a new one?
Elsewhere in Sunday night’s episode, Sansa’s little sister, Arya, finally got a look inside the House of Black and White’s mysterious third floor, the holy sanctum where all the disguises used by the Faceless Men are hung on the walls. It is cavernously immense and dark—DeviantArt itself never dreamt up a more visually staggering interpretation of this room. Happily, after watching her administer her first in-temple death sentence, Jaqen H’ghar deems Arya ready to take on her first disguise—probably the old woman Arya seemed taken by in the sanctum.
In Dorne, Jamie and Bronn, looking hysterical in those new Dornish duds, make their way into the Water Gardens to whisk Princess Myrcella away. Of course, nothing is ever so simple. The raging Sand Snakes, dead-set on starting a war with the Lannisters to exact revenge for their dead father, Oberyn, clash with the sneaks in a battle that, ultimately, feels a little disappointing. We spent five episodes hinting at the women’s formidable fighting prowess and this skirmish, their debut, is over in moments. And then they’re arrested. Wasn’t there supposed to be more to them than this?
The sudden appearance of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje—aka Mr. Eko, the best Lost character ever—almost makes up for the anti-climax of the Sand Snakes. Tyrion and Jorah encounter Agbaje as Malko, a cutthroat slaver who almost chops off Tyrion’s “dwarf cock” to sell it to someone whose job description is literally “cock merchant.” (“A dwarf’s cock has magic powers”; the more you know!) Tyrion manages to talk his way out of his dismemberment by pointing out that a merchant would have no way of knowing whether the penis actually came from a dwarf. “It will be a dwarf-sized cock,” one of Malko’s lackeys tries. “Guess again,” Tyrion snarls. Perfect.
Jorah, meanwhile, is still hiding that Greyscale and could not be more doomed if he went skinny-dipping in Arya’s death fountain. He gets closure (of sorts) regarding his father’s death in this episode when Tyrion relays the news of the former Lord Commander’s demise at Craster’s Keep. Then Jorah gets to deliver an impassioned speech about his dedication to Daenerys, whom he more or less equates with a goddess. Closure and an explanation for his heart’s deepest desires? Nice knowing you, Jorah. R.I.P.
And finally, in King’s Landing, the return of the baddest bitch in Westeros, Lady Olenna Tyrell, isn’t enough to keep Loras and Margaery out of the Sparrows’ deadly grip. In an interrogation overseen by the High Sparrow, Olyver, Littlefinger’s blond brothel boy, spills the beans about his affair with Loras (including a damning detail about the Dorne-shaped birthmark on his thigh). He even goes a step further and gets Margaery arrested, telling the High Sparrow about the time she walked in on the two lovers. Both are led offscreen, fates unknown, as Tommen watches mouth agape. So much effort and dangerous political maneuvering simply to rub insult in the Tyrells’ faces? Cersei will definitely get her due. But for now, we’ll have to settle for watching the Queen Mother’s ever-cool facade start to slip. (The tiny, frustrated sighs she emits during a conversation with Olenna—in which she calls Cersei a tart!—are satisfying beyond measure.)
But in the end, we’re left with Sansa’s sobs. Earlier in the episode, she spoke to the jealous Myranda in a lower, more menacing tone than we’ve ever heard from her. “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home and you can’t frighten me,” she growled. It was a promising sign—until we watched what happened next. Theon seems to still care for Sansa, or so the tears he sheds while watching her succumb to Ramsay would indicate. This might mean he’ll play a part in freeing the girl from her newest captors (a teaser for next week’s episode shows Sansa telling him, “My family still has friends in the North”). But come on. Sansa deserves to save herself! Are we ever going to see that happen?