The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'

She's been abused and controlled for years, and now Sansa wants revenge. Sound familiar?

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The most glaring story development to emerge from Game of Thrones' first episode of Season 7 is the seeming influence of Cersei Lannister on Sansa Stark. Finally in control of her own destiny after three arranged marriages and years of abuse, rape, and psychological terrorism that would've broken the best of us, Sansa wants revenge. She wants to do things her way. The happy girl who Cersei once called her "little dove" is now hardened. And she's turning into what she used to fear most.

Sansa's early days on Game of Thrones were filled with the happiness that can only come with being a princess betrothed to a handsome foreign prince. She couldn't wait to meet Joffrey Baratheon and become his queen. However, reality doesn't always cooperate with dreams and Sansa soon learned her prince was a ruthless psycho unlike any the Seven Kingdoms had seen before. She also learned the Queen Mother wasn't much different.

While Joffrey doesn't show his true colors until he orders Ned Stark's execution at the end of Season 1, Cersei manipulates the grieving girl right away. She lies to make Sansa write a letter to her brother Robb asking him to bend the knee in fealty. She tells Sansa her father is a traitor and forces the girl into a position of weakness. Sansa stays there for years.

Over those years, Cersei preys on Sansa but can't kill her because the Starks kidnap Jaime and hold him prisoner. If Sansa dies, Jaime dies. During that time, Sansa develops a phony politeness to stay under the radar, but Cersei is always present. She's the biggest adult influence in Sansa's life during that time and they inevitably interact. Cersei gives Sansa her first real cup of wine while they wait out the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and the Queen Mother teaches her while insulting her also. When Sansa leads the other women in prayer, Cersei calls the "little fool" over and tells her that praying for the Gods' mercy is fruitless since they have none. Cersei also doesn't hide her disdain for the other women. "I should've been born a man." She tells Sansa. "I'd rather face a thousand swords than be shut up inside with this flock of hens." 

The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Sansa may have hated Cersei, but it's hard to deny she respected her. Growing up as the daughter of Catelyn Stark, Sansa has always had a strong female influence in her life. However, Cersei is a different kind of animal. She's a lion, not a wolf and lions are the royalty of the jungle. Right or wrong, Cersei taught Sansa that arrogance isn't always a bad thing. She taught her female strength in a world of men, whether Sansa knew it or not. And she taught her to vanquish her enemies, that mercy is for the weak, and that women don't all have to cower in the dark when death calls.

The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Years later, now that Sansa is on her own in the world, we're starting to really get to know her. She showed strength in Season 6 by escaping Ramsay Bolton and finding Jon Snow at Castle Black. Soon, she was influencing Littlefinger to summon the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of Winterfell. Her strategic maneuvers won the North for her cousin Jon, and she's now in a position of power beside him. She hasn't been afraid to speak her mind, and she has one of the greatest warriors in Westeros protecting her: Brienne of Tarth.

Sansa's recent success has invigorated her. In the premiere episode of Season 7, she publicly challenges the newly-minted King of the North over what to do with the Last Hearth and Karhold, the castles belonging to two traitorous northern families. Sansa wants to give them to loyalists, but Jon disagrees, saying "I'm not going to strip these families of their ancestral homes because of the crimes of a few reckless sons." Immediately, the two viewpoints are at opposite ends. Jon wants to fortify what's been broken and Sansa simply wants short-term vengeance. She doesn't want to reward the loyal families, she wants to punish the traitors even more, despite the fact they're all dead.

The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

This line of thinking is Lannister-esque. Cersei is the queen of vengeance and Sansa even admits she "learned a great deal from her" when she and Jon talk after the meeting. Sansa tells Jon, "If you're her enemy, she'll never stop until she's destroyed you. Everyone who's ever crossed her, she's found a way to murder." Jon's reply speaks volumes:

The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

"You almost sound as if you admire her."

Also, watch Kit Harington's body language as he speaks this line. He sinks. It's as if he's watching the fall of innocence before his very eyes. He's realizing the sister he once knew is gone and the angry woman before him is someone he doesn't recognize. Doesn't she realize how stupid it is to publicly disagree? Jon knows the time and place to argue is behind closed doors, but Sansa is too irrational to care about politics. Sound like anyone else? 

Sansa's newfound brashness will only alienate Jon and it seems that's where we're headed. Their sibling rivalry will be a major conflict this season. And Cersei is at the heart of it. Sansa even looks like Cersei now. She styles her hair in Lannister fashion in the premiere and even stands like Cersei, hands crossed in front. During a quick conversation with Littlefinger, Sansa doesn't even look at him, just as Cersei wouldn't. 

What's the end game here? Sansa is going to die. It's sad to admit, but this new development does not bode well for her future. Game of Thrones is a show that exists in the gray. Nothing is black and white (except the House of Black and White). Sansa has been a "good" character for six seasons now, but she was always a child and never allowed to be herself. Who's to say she can't turn to the dark side now that we're near the end? Narratively, there's only so much room for these characters. What would Sansa's place be in a war against the Night King? She's a survivor, but turning her into Cersei cements her fate as one and the same and Cersei is going down.

The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'
The Startling Transformation of Sansa Stark Into Cersei Lannister on 'Game of Thrones'
HBO
Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.
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