Since Game of Thrones first aired in 2011, a lot has happened. Thousands of characters have died, families have been torn apart and reunited, and now that Cersei wears the crown, four rulers have sat upon the Iron Throne. We’ve also seen how history in Westeros can be painfully cyclical.
As it did before, the Long Night is encroaching on the Seven Kingdoms. Jaime Lannister pushed Bran from the window of a tower only for his youngest son to throw himself from the heights of his own chambers. A Targaryan queen has arrived on the shores of Westeros to conquer the land as her ancestors did generations before her. The Frey’s murdered much of the Stark family only for a Stark to murder most of the Frey’s men. Karma and time tend to bring things full circle in Westeros.
And Cersei and Sansa are no safer from this wrath. When it comes to their histories, Sansa and Cersei have led almost too identical of lives. Both women were born to noble families, Lannister and Stark. Each of their father’s would serve as hand of the king, Tywin to Aerys and Ned to Robert. They would also each see their dreams of a fairytale marriage snatched from them; Cersei had been promised to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen before marrying King Robert while Sansa thought she would be marrying Joffery only to be wed to the imp Tyrion and later the monster Ramsey Bolton.
Upon meeting Sansa, Cersei calls her “little dove,” compliments her looks and talent at dressmaking and seems genuinely fond to her. Perhaps she just feels fortunate to find her son’s would-be bride is not some northern monster. She goes so far as to comment to Catelyn Stark that her “daughter will do well in the capital. Such a beauty shouldn’t stay hidden up here [in the North] forever.” The two mothers seem content to one day share grandchildren. At the same time, Cersei realized Sansa was a naive girl with dreams of marrying a Prince and birthing royal babes. The same things she once dreamt. And the same dreams that turned sour in her mouth.
Of course, before the end of the first season, Cersei’s care turns to spite. She now calls her “little dove” to insult her. The girl is nothing but a prisoner at court, a wolf caged in the capital. And even though Cersei is not a woman known for her compassionate heart, until Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion, she periodically let’s slip a hint of sympathy for the girl.
When Sansa has her first blood, Cersei shares the story of Joffery’s birth and offers a piece of “womanly wisdom” to her: “The more people you love, the weaker you are…Love no one but your children. On that front, a mother has no choice.” Cersei knows that her son will be no better of a husband than her own, and though she can’t stop loving him, can’t stop him from being cruel and unkind to Sansa, she does extend a rare, empathetic hand to pass this wisdom on to the young Stark. You can watch the scene here.
Later, during the Battle of the Blackwater, while the noble ladies of King’s Landing are gathered in Maegor’s Holdfast at the heart of the Red Keep, Cersei speaks candidly with Sansa. After several glasses of wine, she explains that she in no way invited all of these women to the Holdfast out of compassion or bravery but out of obligation. And she reminds Sansa that the same thing would have been expected of her had she become Joffery’s wife. When hope seems lost and Stannis’s army’s have reached the gates, Cersei flees to the throne room with Tommen, intending to end both of their lives should it come to it. Meanwhile Sansa, in her first real moment of bravery, Sansa takes it upon herself to calm the ladies of the court and leads them in a hymn, stepping up to fill Cersei’s shoes.
Once Margery Tyrell becomes Joffery’s betrothed, Cersei turns her attentions away from Sansa much to the girls relief. But the lessons she learned at the capital are not forgotten on her. By the time she and John retake Winterfell at the end of Season 6, it becomes clear that Sansa has grown into a calculating and cynical shadow of the girl we met back in Season 1. She’s realized, like Cersei, that dreams can turn sour. Hers did too.
In the Season 7 premiere, this change is evident when she and John argue over the fates of houses Karstark and Umber. Thinking only of how their fathers had betrayed the Starks, she wants to punish the heirs of Smalljon Umber and Harald Karstark. She seems to forget that she had stood in the same position when her father Ned “betrayed” the kingdom and she was at the mercy of the Lannister’s. Granted, at the start of their argument, she was unaware of the fact that the remaining Karstark and Umber heirs were children. Upon learning this, she softens her position on the matter, proving that though her heart has been darkened by her experiences, it is not yet as black as Cersei’s.
And now that John is readying to leave the North in Sansa’s hands in order to meet with Daenerys at Dragonstone, we may see just how much like Cersei she’s really become. Will Sansa florish as a northern noble or has she been corrupted by her time with the Lannisters and Boltons. Only the rest of the season will tell.