If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s epic novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, or watched the hit show based on them, it might not be apparent just how gruesome and downright depressing Game of Thrones can get at times. While the franchise is known for epic plots, amazingly well-drawn characters, and some of the best world-building there’s ever been in literature, it’s also not for the faint-hearted.
Of all the characters who endure calamitous journeys to fulfill their destinies, none exemplified just how horrendous and unforgiving the world of Game of Thrones could be than the Stark children. Once a tight-knit brood of diverse personalities, each with their own unique dreams and aspirations, Rob, Sansa, Jon, Arya, Bran, and Rickon find themselves scattered and thrown headlong into merciless situations that see most of their lives then being defined by constant struggles for survival.
Sansa Stark, in particular, faced an immediate baptism of fire the moment she left Winterfell. In many ways, her suffering was the greatest of all the siblings since it’s fair to say she started off being the most pampered and naive among them. Some of her worst moments centered around her tragic marriages.
Wonderfully portrayed by Sophie Turner, sadly the actress’s own marriage also hasn’t fared well either as news of her divorce from Joe Jonas caused a stir in reality too. As Sansa, her character endured some of the most tragic and heartbreaking moments throughout the show. Here’s a look back at the worst of them.
10 Lady’s Death
Sansa and Arya are initially complete opposites despite being the only two daughters of the Stark family. While Arya is headstrong, brave, and abhors girlishness, Sansa is more delicate, pampered, and spends her days dreaming of marrying a handsome and powerful man. Not long into the first season of Game of Thrones, Sansa’s wish is granted beyond her wildest dreams when she ends up betrothed to the eldest Prince of Seven Kingdoms and heir to the Iron Throne.
However, she soon learns that Joffrey is no Prince Charming, and gets an early taste of his sociopathic tendencies when he bullies the Butcher’s son, then attacks Arya when she intervenes, but winds up being bitten by Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria. Sadly, this sets in motion a chain of events that sees Cersei Lannister ordering the direwolf to be killed.
When Nymeria runs off, Sansa’s own direwolf, Lady, has to take her place. If this isn’t bad enough, her own father Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, is the one who has to execute Sansa’s beloved direwolf, whom she raised since Lady was still a pup.
9 The Riot
By Season 2, Sansa is suffering through her betrothal to Joffrey, whose conscionable behavior is steadily growing worse. After ascending to the throne in the wake of King Robert Baratheon’s death, King Joffrey’s tyrannical rule soon causes instability between the kingdom and the people. Their disgruntlement comes to a boil when Joffrey and his retinue are out in public to attend Princess Myrcella’s departure to Dorne.
When the angry mob starts mocking Joffrey and flinging filth at him, his outrage leads to a full-on riot. In the melee that ensues, Sansa is separated from the party and ends up being cornered by a group of men. In a show characterized by controversial scenes, they beat and pin her down, taunt her as she whimpers and screams in fear, and begin stripping her with the intention of raping her. Luckily, Ser Sandor “The Hound” Clegane saves her, but the experience is still extremely traumatizing.
8 The Letter
Toward the back end of Season 1, Sansa was quickly learning that the world was not the fairy tale she’d grown up believing in. However, the worst of her experiences were yet to happen, so she still clung onto a lot of her gullible innocence. When her father is betrayed and imprisoned on false charges of high treason, Sansa is desperate to have his life spared.
The fork-tongued Cersei manipulates Sansa by using her fear against her and convinces her to write a letter to her brother Robb in an effort to gain the fealty of the North. On the surface, it makes her seem like she is blindly siding with the Lannisters. Much later on, the letter again emerges and threatens Sansa’s relationship with her family members.
7 First Wedding Night
Sansa Stark’s engagement and marriage woes took toxic relationships to truly disturbing levels. While she was still betrothed to Joffrey, the changing politics from all the chaos the Lannisters caused leads Cersei to goad Joffrey into dropping Sansa as his bride-to-be in favor of a new engagement with Margaery of Highgarden, so an alliance can be formed with House Tyrell.
While Sansa initially believes she will now be wed to Margaery’s brother, Loras Tyrell, a handsome and skilled knight, she’s later forced into a marriage to Tyrion Lannister. Unbeknownst to Sansa, Tyrion, who became known for his quick wit and kind heart compared to his family members, is secretly in love with a former sex worker turned chambermaid.
Sansa’s wedding turns out to be a grim and depressing affair. Tyrion gets drunk and belligerent to drown his own sorrows, and Sansa has to suffer the indignation of having Joffrey walk her down the aisle rather than her father, while he quietly threatens to still have his way with her, even after she marries his uncle.
6 More Bad News
After the first season, for many years, Sansa Stark’s life becomes nothing more than a series of pain and anguish. It’s already bad enough that she’s been forced to leave her home and all its comforts, she’s also been cut off from her family and is left to fend for herself in the cold, unforgiving world she now inhabits. Having been forced to witness her father’s brutal death, she later gets news that her former home has been usurped by Theon Greyjoy, and that her two younger brothers, Bran and Rickon, have both been murdered.
While this news thankfully turns out to be false, when she hears of the events of the infamous “Red Wedding,” the news that her mother and older brother have both been betrayed and murdered too, this time the news is sadly true. The worst part is that she has to constantly endure Joffrey and his family’s taunts and mockery, and is forced to feign fealty to the very family who orchestrated the murders of so many of her family members.
5 Beaten and Stripped
Sansa’s life with Joffrey was a constant nightmare to say the least. Between his despotic methods of ruling and cruel actions, Joffrey often relished causing Sansa (and others) physical and emotional pain. In this heartbreaking scene, after Rob Stark rebels against the Lannisters, Joffrey uses his actions to torture Sansa by making her fear for her life and beg for mercy.
The scene when he drags her before a full court, aims his notorious crossbow at her, and humiliates her in front of everyone present is gruesome to watch. His words as he orders Ser Merryn Trent to beat and strip her tell you all you need to know about what a monster Joffrey was.
“Killing you would send your brother a message…but my mother insists on keeping you alive. Stand! So, we’ll have to send your brother a message some other way. Merryn…leave her face. I like her pretty. My lady’s overdressed. Unburden her. If we want Rob Stark to hear us, we’re gonna have to speak LOUDER!”
Seeing Sansa beaten, stripped, and humiliated in front of everyone makes for a heartbreaking sight since she was once such a proud, dainty, and respectable young woman before Joffrey and his family got to her. Thankfully, Tyrion intervened and saved her before she was forced to suffer even more.
4 Fighting with Arya
In later seasons, after years of being separated, the remaining Starks (and Jon) are finally reunited. For Sansa and Arya, it was an especially poignant reunion since the pair were always fighting when they were younger. Unfortunately, with the weight of all the other shocking twists throughout the show, their happiness at finding each other again is short-lived. The letter Sansa was forced to write resurfaces and causes a rift, while the master manipulator Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, quietly stirs up more animosity between the sisters.
For a couple of tense episodes fraught with danger, Sansa and Arya appear to be headed for a collision course that would ultimately mean Sansa had never learned from the naivety she showed in her younger years, and seemingly allowed herself to be manipulated again. Before it’s revealed that she actually had learned, the rift between her and Arya was devastating for viewers since it marred what they thought was finally some happiness for the Starks.
3 The Second Wedding Night
After Sansa’s horrid engagement to Joffrey and her sham marriage to Tyrion, she would later find herself in an even more torturous union with Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay was a straight-up psychopath who derived joy from torturing others and did so with unimaginable cruelty. After already suffering through Joffrey’s horrific treatment of her, at Littlefinger’s behest, Sansa is later betrothed to yet another monster.
On their wedding night, Ramsay turns up his malevolence as he consummates his marriage forcibly while Sansa weeps face-down into the mattress. Worse yet, he forces Theon Greyjoy, a man Sansa has known since childhood, to stay in the room and watch as he sexually assaults his wife.
2 Ned Stark’s Death
At the end of the first season, Game of Thrones builds to an unbelievably shocking twist. By this point, Ned Stark has been imprisoned and Sansa is already suffering at the hands of Joffrey and Cersei as she’s manipulated, intimidated, and abused physically and emotionally. While enduring all this, she’s also devastated at her father’s plight and is forced to beg and plead for his life.
The true callousness of Joffrey’s nature emerges as Ned Stark is publicly paraded and forced to confess to crimes he never committed. The most horrid part for Sansa is that she’s initially pleased as Joffrey cruelly leads her to believe that her begging is what secured his mercy. Instead, Joffrey reveals he had no intention of showing any. Screaming in anguish for Ned’s life, she’s forced to watch as her father is executed by decapitation with his own sword, right in front of her.
1 Forced to Look
After being forced to watch her father’s execution, Sansa is left a shell of herself. She has learned just how merciless the world can be and just how intolerable her life has become. Still reeling from her father’s death and virtually being a captive of the Lannisters, Joffrey takes his savage cruelty to even lower depths. Although she tries to look away, Sansa is horrified when Joffrey forces her to look up and sees her father’s severed head, and the heads of other people she once knew, mounted on spikes.
The moment forces her to adopt an almost robotic stance just so she can stomach it. Joffrey doesn’t take kindly to this and begins taunting her more about how he’s going to add her brother Robb’s head to the display soon. Sansa’s pain causes her to openly insult him. For her troubles, Joffrey orders Ser Merryn to strike her for him. Seemingly forever trapped in this nightmarish existence, Sansa is left with a bleeding lip and a bleeding heart, facing the reality that this is what her life is always going to be like.