Sansa Stark, the snowcastle scene, and why it matters
The snow drifted down and down, all in ghostly silence, and lay thick and unbroken on the ground. All color had fled the world outside. It was a place of whites and blacks and greys. White towers and white snow and white statues, black shadows and black trees, the dark grey sky above. A pure world, Sansa thought. I do not belong here.
Snow—the first snow since Sansa has left Winterfell. And it has almost magical powers: It transforms Sansa. More than anything else has transformed her over the course of the book series.
How GRRM describes the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. From the moment Sansa first discovers it’s snowing outside, her thoughts and memories of Winterfell and her siblings, her preparations, what clothes she puts on, to the world that awaits her—it’s just beautiful. It’s pure. And Sansa, ever the lady, sees this at once. And yet…
…she stepped out all the same Her boots tore ankle-deep holes into the smooth white surface of the snow.
Whoa, one sentence later everything changed. Sansa intrudes, and it’s apparent in the words GRRM uses. She tears holes into the snow. Sansa, for lack of a better word, forces herself into the pure world. She leaves holes behind that show she’s been here. She alters the scene and leaves her mark on the world.
But she does not stop there. Sansa doesn’t just destroy. She builds. She kneels down and starts building a castle—and not just any castle. She builds Winterfell. The shy, little girl, who strived to be little more than human decoration when she was a child, becomes proactive now. She literally takes matters into her own hands and gets to work.
Soon her gloves and her boots were crusty white, her hands were tingling, and her feet were soaked and cold, but she did not care. The castle was all that mattered.
Sansa building the snowcastle is not a little girl playing. It’s a woman claiming agency, no matter the cost. She has a goal and lets nothing stop her, not the cold, not the dampness of her clothes, not hunger, skipping breakfast. No, Sansa has a castle to build. Some servants, Lysa, and Maester Colemont watch her for a while, “but she paid them no mind”. She is focused on her task, she is driven, and she cares… so much that she curses aloud when her bridges keep falling down.
In the entire series, Sansa has not cursed before or since. Every word she says is well-chosen, ladylike, charming, courteous. This is the exception. In this pure world, while building her castle, Sansa forgets her manners, and lets her feelings dictate what she says.
And this is how Petyr finds her. It’s clear to him that Sansa has begun to change into a new woman—strong, determined, proactive.
“May I come into your castle, my lady?”
Sansa was wary. “Don’t break it. Be…”
“Gentle?” He smiled. “Winterfell has withstood fiercer enemies than me. … I used to dream of it, in those years after Cat went North with Eddard Stark.”
He politely asks for her permission to join her. He fully validates that the snowcastle is more than just a castle made of snow. It’s Sansa’s home, it’s important to her. And it is powerful enough to withstand him. He downright admits that Winterfell has beaten him once before—that Eddard beat him when he took Cat’s hand in marriage.
Just like Sansa when she curses, Petyr behaves very uncharacteristically here: He admits defeat. More so, he brings it up. He voluntarily shows himself vulnerable.
The people building the snowcastle are not Lady Sansa and Littlefinger. They are Sansa and Petyr, most themselves, her not hiding behind her armor of courtesy, him not hiding behind his Littlefinger persona.
Petyr helps Sansa build her castle. He provides her with ideas and suggestions, but he never usurps the process. It’s still her castle, her cause. He just provides support, and only after she asks him for his advice. He builds a latticework of twigs for her and then, again, politely asks if he should make another one. And she says yes. Throughout the process, Sansa admires his handiwork and his ideas and is thankful for his help.
The Broken Tower was easier still. They made a tall tower together, kneeling side by side…
Obviously Petyr has gained Sansa’s trust after a while, and thus gets promoted to co-builder instead of subcontractor: Now they work on the tower together.
… and when they had raised it Sansa stuck her fingers through the top, grabbed a handful of snow, and flung it full in his face.
Sansa flings a handful of snow in Petyr’s face. Is there anything more carefree than this? Anything bolder, more teasing?
Sansa has changed so much over the course of this scene, and this is her crescendo. She begins very Sansa-like—shy, afraid, reluctant. But the snow, her memories of home, and most importantly, the success of her own project—the snowcastle—embolden her. As soon as she takes charge and finds something she truly cares about, she becomes stronger and more proactive than she’s been in the entire book series so far. Sansa grows more independent, and more secure, within hours—so much that she dares fling a handful of snow in Petyr’s face. Which, as Petyr immediately remarks, was “unchivalrously done.” Go Sansa!
“As was bringing me here, when you swore to take me home.”
And now she tells Petyr, to his face, that he lied, and that she doesn’t like it. She criticizes him. This is bold. Sansa Stark criticizes. That in itself is rebellious. Sansa was raised to please, not to speak her mind. Much less so to an older man. In this patriarchal society, a society Sansa desperately wanted to fit into when she was a child, she defies all convention and criticizes a man. This is one of the most emancipated things Sansa has done so far.
In short: Sansa has grown up.
And Petyr sees this—of course he does. Petyr, the most observant man in the book series, notices how Sansa has changed and how fierce she has become. He sees that she has agency now, independence, that she has been transformed. And that is what makes her so attractive in his eyes: That she is not a child any more. And he kisses her…
… and Sansa still stands up for herself. She’s no longer the eager to please, convenient girl. She pushes him away and demands an explanation.
Again, remember how Sansa was raised. How rebellious this is of her. The fact that she pushes him away. That she then does not apologize for it and instead refuses him. That she stands her ground and tells him three more times to not kiss her:
…she wrenched free. “What are you doing?”
“Kissing a snow maid.”
“You’re supposed to kiss her. Your lady wife.”
“… Let me warm you, Sansa. Take off those gloves, give me your hands.”
“I won’t. You shouldn’t kiss me. I might have been your own daughter.”
Petyr is very persistent here. He wants to kiss her, and “explains” to her all the “reasons” she should let him (what an asshole). But Sansa remains firm. She does not budge. She does not want to kiss him, and so she does not kiss him. That’s… so incredibly strong. So brave. So rebellious. (I know I am repeating myself but oh god I admire Sansa so much for her strength.)
Sansa has grown up. She stands up for herself now. And the following chapters pay homage to this—there is not one dialogue where she is not witty and clever, playfully bantering with some people, courteously yet firmly standing her ground against others—includingPetyr.
It is clear that Sansa, during her time in the Vale, is not “at Petyr’s mercy” or “in no position to refuse him” or “a helpless girl he can take advantage of”. She is a strong, independent woman, very well capable of firmly refusing unwanted advances.
Yes, Petyr is slimy. He obviously wants to kiss her and he makes this a recurring theme in their interactions. But Sansa, just as craftily, maneuvers her way around him. She knows exactly what she is doing. She plays him. She’s biding her time, all the while learning everything Littlefinger has to teach her.
She’s waiting, ready to strike, for the right moment to destroy him…
… and then rebuild her castle out of the rubble—as she has done before, in a place of whites and blacks and greys, in a pure world.