'Game of Thrones' Q&A: Sophie Turner on Sansa Stark's Survival Skills

One of the show's most controversial characters takes on the haters, talks romance with the Hound

Sophie Turner at the 'Game of Thrones' season 3 premiere at Cinerama Theater in Seattle, Washington.
Suzi Pratt/WireImage
Sophie Turner at the 'Game of Thrones' season 3 premiere at Cinerama Theater in Seattle, Washington
By |

Can someone please start an "It Gets Better" project for Sansa Stark? After arriving in King's Landing with visions of queendom dancing in her eyes, Ned Stark's eldest girl lost her father to an executioner's axe, the rest of her family to a civil war, and her delusions about her fiancé King Joffrey to his general repulsiveness. In the latest episode of Game of Thrones, she finally had the chance to let it all out, warning newcomers Olenna and Margaery Tyrell that the man Margaery's planning to marry is a monster.  If things don't work out between her and Loras Tyrell, I'm calling her guidance counselor.

But Sophie Turner, the young actress who plays this damsel in distress, points out most characters wouldn't have lasted nearly as long in her situation. As a performer, she brings that quiet but steely strength to every scene, even when Sansa thinks her life is on the line depending on what she says next. And she has little patience with people who don't have the patience for Sansa herself.

I can't spend 15 minutes on my Tumblr dashboard without running into some huge wall of animated GIFs of you on a red carpet someplace defending Sansa from her haters.
Really?

Yes. It's a very popular phenomenon.
I never go out of my way to do it, but I get very passionate when people say to me in interviews, "Sansa basically killed Ned." I'm like, "Oh, nooo. Let me tell you why." It frustrates me when people don't see where I'm coming from. I'm just very passionate about her.

'Game of Thrones' Cheat Sheet: What You Need to Know for Season Three

It's not like she came to her initial mindset about how the world works on her own. Her parents and teachers taught it to her.
In Season One, for example, she's put in a situation where she was asked to talk about Joffrey getting bitten by Nymeria, Arya's direwolf. People are always saying "Oh, that was your fault, blah blah blah," that [Sansa's own direwolf] Lady got killed [in retaliation]. But if she'd have defended Joffrey she would've sabotaged her own family, and if she defended Arya, then her future, which her parents planned for her, would be totally gone. So she went down the middle. I don't . . . [dramatically] I just don't understand some people. [Laughs]

I wish I'd had the lives they apparently had, where they never did anything they regretted at 12 or 13.
Yeah. It's a shame they don't realize that if they were in the same situation, they would do exactly the same thing.

By this point in the series, it's clear Sansa's a survivor. Her siblings may all be better with swords, but I'm not sure any of them could have hacked it in her specific situation at court.
It's actually good for her that she's ended up in court, because none of the fighting is done physically. It's more done verbally, or behind people's backs. It's very much more subtle and a lot more secretive. If any of the other Starks – or anyone else, for that matter – was put in that same situation as Sansa, if they'd have fought back then, they would be dead right now. Sansa adapts to her environment very well.

That's the tension of Sansa's big scene in this episode. After all this time spent holding back her emotions, Olenna and Margaery invite her to tell the truth. It looked like an excruciating decision to make.
Yeah, but the thing about the Starks is they're very loyal and very truthful people. When Margaery and Olenna ask Sansa what Joffrey is like, Sansa feels this bond with Margaery. She feels like an older sister to Sansa, and so Sansa kind of feels like she can tell her. She wants to protect her family, and that's the only family she has left, because she doesn't know where the others are. That's why, I think, she tells her – Margaery is giving her so much advice that she feels like she needs to do the same.

I never even thought of it that way. I always framed it in terms of Sansa's self-preservation, but it's really fascinating that you're like "No, even in this kind of desperate moment, she's looking out for the well-being of others."
Yeah. That's how I interpreted it, anyway.

As an actor, you've been tossed into the emotional deep end over the course of the show so far. At the end of the day, how do you shake that off and go home?
I guess I'm just a very depressed person inside and I don't realize. [Laughs] I find it quite easy to get in and out of character. I don't know why – I guess it's my job. It's quite nice coming off doing a dark, upsetting scene. It's a relief that that's over with, and then you can get back to happy old Sophie.

Another facet of this scene is that it involves three women, a kind of interaction you don't see a whole lot on big-ticket dramas. Sansa's also spent a lot of time with complex women characters like Cersei. Is there anything different about that gender dynamic, as either a character or a performer?
It's nice – you have this male-dominated world, and it's only through the eyes of the viewer that you see the women are just as capable of all the things that the men are, but the men don't really see that themselves. In scenes like this, the viewer gets to see the women plotting or conspiring together, and it's very unique. The fact that Olenna and Margaery adopt Sansa, in a way, brings a whole new element. This new relationship between Sansa and the Tyrells – there's a conspiracy between them. It's very interesting to see the women doing that, because you don't see or hear about that in the history of medieval times. But we get to see it.

Natalie Dormer pointed out to me last week that Margaery has a freedom many women lack because her family is run by a woman. Now Sansa's been sucked into that dynamic.
Yeah, and it's very refreshing to see Sansa kind of sucked into that as well, because all her life, really, she's been surrounded by men. I mean, apart from her mother. Even Arya has this very boyish, tomboyish way about her. I think that's partly the appeal of Olenna and Margaery – they're so alike to Sansa in that way that she feels this connection with them, this bond with them. Because she's such a strong individual female joining the ranks of Olenna and Margaery, both incredibly strong, it works. It's a very powerful threesome, I feel.

I'm glad to hear you use the word "strong." It's probably kind of important to reclaim the concept of "strong female characters" from characters who can physically kick your ass to simply mean female characters who are strongly written.
I think the strong thing about Sansa is the fact that she doesn't fight. Fighting alone can be seen as a very strong thing to do, but the fact that she doesn't fight and she doesn't strike back is probably her best trait. Having to resist the urge to fight back – which, you know, I'm sure she has – is in itself one of the best things about her. In that sense, she's very strong, and she's very strong-willed, and she has willpower. That's very important in this world, because if someone had fought back they'd be dead. Because . . . Joffrey. [Laughs]

Everyone I know who's ever written about the show hates that character but loves the actor who plays him.
Oh, yeah. I mean, how can you not love Jack Gleeson? He's amazing. He's the nicest guy. He's probably the nicest person on the show! It's so funny.

As actors, you're not doing voiceovers that narrate your inner thoughts the way the books can do with prose, but as flesh-and-blood humans you can constantly compensate with facial expressions and body language and voice pitch and so on. I think a lot of readers have returned to the books with their views of the characters informed, or even transformed, by how the performers embody the characters. That's certainly been the case with Sansa for me. Do you take that book-to-show feedback loop into consideration?
Yeah, I do. I definitely do. We use the books as a way of finding out the characters' inner thoughts. Our job is to portray them onscreen without doing a voiceover kind of thing. It's very difficult. And it's also very difficult when people have an idea of what the character is supposed to be like in their heads. I don't go out intending to please every single person that watches the show – I just want to please [author] George R.R. Martin, [showrunners] Dave [Benioff], Dan [Weiss] and the people that write the script. They have this idea of the character in their head, and I just want to do justice to the character instead of having to please all these millions of fans. I mean, obviously it would be nice to please them . . . [Laughs] But I don't set about doing that. It's doing justice to Sansa. I think that's the only thing you can do. It's definitely difficult embodying the character, especially when it's such a controversial character like Sansa, but it's a lot of fun. I like the fact that we have the books to back up our knowledge of the character and give the backstory. It's perfect – it's really helpful. It helps the character become very human.

Last, and probably least, I want to throw a bone to the "SanSan" shippers out there in the fandom, who want to know if Sansa will wind up with Sandor "The Hound" Clegane someday following their interactions during Season Two. Without spoiling anything, do you have an opinion on that particular matter?
I mean, I don't necessarily . . . what is it, ship them? I don't necessarily ship them, but I think their relationship is kind of different – it's very unique, it's very beautiful. I wouldn't put them together romantically. I just think it's a very empathetic relationship from the Hound towards Sansa. He's Sansa's knight that she's been wishing for, but she's never really realized that the Hound is that person that she's been dreaming of all along. So I think it's a very beautiful relationship. It would be nice for Sansa to see the Hound again, because there's definitely a platform built for the characters and the potential for the characters to have more experiences with each other. I do hope that something happens in the future, that they meet up again or something, because it would be lovely to build on that relationship that we've established.

Can at least let a few years go by? Maybe he can sober up and calm down a little bit before we start worrying about settling him down in some way?
Yeah, that would be nice. He's a bad example.