This post contains spoilers for the Game of Thrones season finale.
Game of Thrones Season 5 came to a bloody close Sunday night, with little resolution. While some stories wrapped up in immensely satisfying ways (bye, Stannis), others were left open-ended. Specifically, both Arya and Sansa Stark’s narratives arrived at highly anticipated crossroads. But while Arya’s story was executed perfectly, Sansa’s ended up as perhaps the season’s greatest disappointment.
This episode is all about people getting what had been coming to them. Brienne finally kills Stannis. Olly finally makes good on those dirty looks he’s been sending Jon Snow (for the Watch). And Arya finally kills another man from her list: Meryn Trant. As soon as she laid eyes on him last Sunday, we knew what was coming. Blind rage toward the people on her kill list has driven Arya for several seasons. She’s refused to give up, despite swearing herself to the Many Faced God. At first it seems her tutor in assassination, Jaqen H’ghar, has sacrificed himself in repentance for her transgression—taking a life that was not hers to take. “Only death can pay for life,” he says. But when Jaqen appears behind Arya, she begins peeling faces off his corpse. As the facial features keep changing, he reminds her of her vows to become no one. “To someone … faces are as good as poison,” he says, as she finds her own face on the corpse and begins to lose her eyesight. In refusing to give up her identity, Arya also refused to give up the anger she has carried for several seasons. What has figuratively blinded her for years has now, it seems, physically blinded her.
Back in Winterfell, Sansa Stark has been languishing. Ramsay is clearly a sadist—something she knew, but apparently miscalculated. A woman who offered to help her was paraded, flayed, before her eyes. Sansa frantically asked Reek for help, and he betrayed her. While at the start of the season it seemed she had a plan, and knew what she was doing, Sansa’s growing desperation had begun to dissolve any hope that she would end up as something more interesting than a victim.
When we first see Sansa in the finale, she seems to finally be reclaiming some shred of agency: She’s carrying her own candle to the tower this time. But she’s asking help of unknown people, when it’s become clear her “allies” might not be as helpful as promised. And on her way back, Myranda corners her at arrowpoint, with Reek at her side. Sansa grimly resigns herself to her fate, “while there’s still some of me left.” Just as Myranda prepares to shoot her God knows where, Reek becomes Theon again and throws Myranda over the wall. The two realize Ramsay is returning, clasp hands and jump off Winterfell’s wall into the snow.
Of all the disappointments this season has brought, this is the biggest. Sansa has long been one of the show’s most compellingly sympathetic characters, especially as those around her seem to only grow more twisted and maniacal. This season initially looked like an opportunity for her to evolve from merely sympathetic to empowered. Her brutal rape at the hands of her new husband could have been a calculated sacrifice that was still part of a larger plan, from which she would emerge victorious. Arya’s turn of fortune in this episode was a direct result of her own actions; she made a bad decision, and she’s paying for it. But now it seems that Sansa—instead of sneakily laying in wait for her moment to reclaim power—was merely manipulated by someone she’d grown to trust. She was Littlefinger’s pawn, not a free agent or even an accomplice with her own cards to play. She has effectively been made, once again, an object of torture, a damsel for Theon to save.