The moment in Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode "Battle of the Bastards" when Sansa Stark watched as the knights of the Vale rode down triumphantly to crush the Bolton army and take back Winterfell for the Stark family was one of the few times the show actually had a victory for the "good guys." And after watching Sansa sit next to Littlefinger, I'm actually somewhat confident for the first time that she's not actually being manipulated. Somewhere along the way, she became incredibly tough — but make no mistake, Sansa isn't strong because of her rape on Game of Thrones. She was already well on her way to transforming into a completely different person than the one she was back in the first season long before she was victimized and tortured by Ramsay during their short marriage.
Instead, I think while the character has frequently made errors of naiveté in the past, she's been slowly changing for years now, and has frequently been underestimated by almost everyone, even though she's been slowly improving over the course of the series, to the point where her new steely exterior makes total sense, completely outside of her abuse.
And there's plenty of ways the show has demonstrated that Sansa was already transforming into her newly tough self that has nothing to do with her treatment by Ramsay.
When She Learned That Life Was Unfair
Sansa's direwolf Lady was killed in the second episode of the show, and it was one of the ways to represent that from the beginning, the eldest Stark sister was somewhat distant from her family's hard, Northern life when she lied to protect Joffrey instead of her own sister, Arya. But even if she was already daydreaming about marriage, she still took the death of her direwolf very seriously.
And, since that episode, Sansa's entire arc has been leading her back to Winterfell, and back to what she once underestimated — and she's finally absorbed the lesson she was taught back then about how dangerous the people in power can be.
Her Perfect King's Landing Facade
When Sansa was abandoned in King's Landing with not a single member of her family left alive, she managed to escape death several times, all by playing the rules of the "Game of Thrones" and never being caught doing anything that a proper lady wouldn't.
Her Many Joffrey Putdowns
It takes a sophisticated mind to put together insults that manage to rankle King Joffrey without provoking his wrath. While she still wasn't confident enough to outright manipulate him, Sansa was able to get into his head on several occasions using nothing more than a well-placed comment.
How She Handled Her Escape
When the Hound offered to help Sansa escape from King's Landing in Season 2, she may have seemed crazy to turn him down. But she decided to wait, and while she still went through more emotional torture while she remained in the city, she was able to make an ally in Tyrion and do some (temporary) good by saving Ser Dontos' life.
Her Pragmatic Choices In The Vale
Sansa's coldest moment to date has got to be when she decided to let her aunt die in favor of Petyr Baelish's plans to take over the Vale. That was the first step she took towards her bloodthirsty revenge on Ramsay — but she was building up a violent side before he entered her life.
And When She Finally Learned How To Handle Littlefinger
There's no bigger sin that the Starks have committed on this show than their insistence on trusting people who shouldn't be trusted. And while Sansa has fallen into that trap time and time again, Season 6 has shown that she finally understands how to handle Littlefinger, when her parents and brothers have never been able to wrap their minds around his manipulations.
Oh, and yes, her confrontation with him did happen after her rape chronologically, but the growth she's experienced there began back in Season 4, when Littlefinger smuggled Sansa out of the city and began teaching her the tricks of his trade.
All this time, Sansa has been growing and changing, and all without it having anything to do with Ramsay's sexual abuse. That may have made her ultimate revenge even sweeter, but Sansa's been moving in this direction for a long time now on Game of Thrones.
Image: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO (3); Giphy (4)