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At the end of season 6

The northern lords proclaim Jon Snow the "King in the North".

Why did they not proclaim Sansa the "Queen in the North"?

Does a male bastard have a stronger claim than a female true-born? It's not like Jon and Sansa have a claim dispute, but everyone seems to rally behind Jon rather than Sansa.

If Rickon was still alive, everyone would rally behind him even though he would be kind of like Tommen, right?

I have a feeling this is less a matter of gender and more of experience in leadership or politics? Kind of like with Stannis and Renly.

Or is this because Sansa has a different last name now (if she is still a Bolton)?

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    Possible duplicate of Comprehensive Rules for Game of Thrones Lines of Succession – Möoz Jul 9 '16 at 6:53
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    @Mooz Why? Their case is atypical – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 6:57
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    It's because the show's writers aren't that great a continuity. A bastard has no rights to succession unless there's no other "viable" option (make or female). – Möoz Jul 9 '16 at 6:58
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    @Mooz So why not just answer that? Why mark as duplicate? – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 7:02
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    By declaring a King or Queen of the North, aren't the Northern Lords committing treason anyways? Jon is the person they are willing to follow, Sansa is not. With treason/right by conquest, rules go out the window. – ncalmbeblpaicr0011 Jul 11 '16 at 20:08
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+100

This comes up a lot, so I'm answering it in detail. It's addressed (subtly) in dialogue, and follows a key theme of the story. If you want a quick read, I wrote a short version on the Film & TV site.

Sansa doesn't want to rule.

Neither does Jon, of course. Neither has shown any sign of enjoying politics and both have suffered horribly from being in the limelight, and (I realise this is unusual for Game of Thrones characters) neither is a psychopathic megalomaniac motivated by lust for power.

We even see a debate between the two, where both encourage the other to step up. Of the two - Sansa and Jon - Sansa is now by far the more skilled politician and manipulator (in the TV show: in the books she's still literally struggling to manipulate stubborn children out of bed), and therefore, Sansa wins.

Jon: I'm having the lord's chamber prepared for you.

Sansa: Mother and Father's room? You should take it.

Jon: I'm not a Stark.

Sansa: You are to me.

Jon: You're the Lady of Winterfell.

Sansa: You deserve it. We're standing here because of you.

...So first, she convinces Jon to think of himself as a Stark, and makes it clear she doesn't want to step up...

Sansa: I should have told you about him, about the Knights of the Vale. I'm sorry.

Jon: We need to trust each other. We can't fight a war amongst ourselves. We have so many enemies now.

Sansa: Jon. A raven came from the Citadel. A white raven. Winter is here.

Transcript link

Notice how she artfully creates a subtext where Jon's duty is to step up and lead, and hers is to inform and support him - wrapped up in what looks like an innocent, welcome apology. She's already been playing on what Jon sees as his duty to protect her and her vulnerability. It's much more subtle than what she did with the Royces in season 4, but the principle is the same: playing on a noble man's sense of duty and honour.

The very next scene we see them in, it's Jon (nervously, reluctantly) putting himself forward at the head of the table, and Sansa (smiling) sitting by his side, letting him take the limelight, the pressure, the responsibility, and the risk.

Power resides where men think it resides

I really can't stress this massive, massive theme of the whole story enough - it's essentially the underlying answer to every question of the form "But technically, don't the rules say...".

You've got a room full of passionate Northern lords and ladies, not rule-following robots or book-balancing bureaucrats. They're looking at:

  • The legendary Northern swordsman (according to Ramsay who has no reason to lie about this) Jon Snow, who was the respected leader of the ramshackle rugged Castle Black, who led the inadequate brave army to Winterfell, who stupidly honourably led an incredibly foolish courageous charge in a doomed noble attempt to save his brother, reminding everyone of the much-loved Ned Stark's unwavering commitment to acts that are likely to imperil his entire family right and honourable. He led the army from the front, led the charge into Winterfell, and personally overcame the feared Ramsay - with his bare hands! He's a living legend in the North, sitting at the head of the table, and is talking like a leader. Everyone is talking about him.

  • The gentle Sansa, who has spent a long time in the South battling to survive and developing valuable political skills eating lemon cakes and doing whatever soft southerners do. She's sat by her half-brother's side, letting him put his head on the chopping block dutifully supporting his claim to rule. She single-handedly won the entire battle watched the battle from far away, and the faction she won over and directed sent letters to are the only reason they're not all dead not even Northerners. She's not claiming anything. No-one's talking about her, and she seems perfectly happy that way.

A majority consensus is emerging that Jon is enough of a Stark. Sansa might seem more obviously a Stark on paper, but we saw earlier that after her marriages and time down south some (e.g. Lyanna Mormont) question whether she's still a true Stark or more of a "Sansa Bolton" or "Sansa Lannister".

Whatever she is, she seems to support the emerging consensus that Jon should rule, and no-one else has an interest in arguing the point for her. Northern lords aren't the types to say "Maester! Bring the rulebook! Let it tell us what to do". They certainly didn't stop to check they were following correct procedures when they spontaneously promoted Robb from Lord to King.

Who are they going to cheer for?

There's no magic Supreme Court to rigidly enforce the law

In our world, some countries have Separation of Powers and an independent body or bodies like a Supreme Court than can hold all powerful people to account and enforce the Rule of Law. Many countries, sadly, don't, even (or, especially) today. If you're lucky enough to live in one of the countries that does, don't take it for granted and assume that in all nations, in all worlds fictional or otherwise, some magical power ensures that rules are followed even when no-one in a position of power wills it. Rule of Law isn't the norm - it's something people fought long and hard for, and still fight to maintain.

Rule of Law is clearly not strong in Westeros, despite the courageous efforts of a rare few (e.g. Ned, Barristan). If you truly can't believe that various shattered war-torn corners of Westeros don't have some strong, independent power that magically enforces the rules regardless of the preferences of the powerful, ask yourself, where was this power when Mad King Aerys decided "wildfire" was a valid champion for a trial by combat, and turned a trial into an execution? Or when Joffrey granted himself the unprecedented power to overrule a kingsguard's solemn vow? Or when Cersei ripped up King Robert's decree? Those were more peaceful times, in the South, where the infrastructure of the state was still largely functional (multiple great houses, a semi-independent religious order, small council, citadel, maesters, bureaucrats, etc), unlike the war-torn North where this is the third total change in governmental system in a few years. Despite disapproving mutterings, these nonetheless went largely unchallenged.

Would it even matter if there was a powerful, independent arbiter? Suppose Lady Mormont's maester had been a stickler for the rules, stood proud and produced a rulebook with which he passionately argued that Sansa must inherit whether she wants to or not. Suppose the lords had been swayed by this. Nothing would stop newly crowned Queen Sansa simply formally legitimising Jon and abdicating. There's little practical difference here between her giving Jon informal backing as the eldest known living Stark, and her giving formal backing as a "five minute Queen".

It's de facto vs de jure legitimisation. A functional legal system or bureaucracy would care about the difference, but the fact Northern lords don't reinforces something about them we learned when they spontaneously promoted Robb from lord to king without stopping to observe any legal framework or due process. They don't fuss about the details, they act.


Sansa could make a very strong claim here, but it'd be out of character

She's clearly aware she could. Baelish had even tried (creepily) and failed to talk her into it:

Littlefinger: Who should the North rally to, Sansa? A trueborn daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark born here at Winterfell or a motherless bastard born in the south?

Since everything went crazy in Season 1, all Sansa's actions have been trying to get to a position of relative safety. Before then, her main motivations were lemon cakes and a naive sense of the glamour of knights, courts, kings and castles. She's never shown any interest in power except as a means to try to get a safer or more comfortable position. Even when she was enjoying being betrothed to Joffrey, it was the glamour and false charm that excited her, in stark contrast (see what I did there) to the smart, power-hungry Margaery.

She could easily make a case for herself to be Lady of Winterfell (hell, even Jon wanted her to), but she refused. After everything she's been through, why would she want to be the one in the most dangerous position, under the most pressure, responsible for holding together impoverished factions recently at war facing a fierce winter and a terrifying threat from beyond the wall? Especially considering it appears to be part of yet another elaborate plan by the creepiest man in Winterfell (if it was reverse psychology on his part and this is the outcome he actually wanted, she's not yet smart enough to see through it).

She's finally got a roof and a warm bed, people around her she can trust, and meat and mead to share with them and a table to share it from. She's happy, for the first time since Season 1 (apart from nagging worries about that aforementioned Creepiest Man in Winterfell).


Of course, she does now have this wrathful and impatient side to her personality. It would be perfectly in character if, next season, she took a "backseat driver" roll, constantly feeling the need to intervene every time she sees the less politically astute Jon about to do something she thinks is foolish or weak (a little like she did before the battle). But there's nothing we've seen in her character to suggest she actually wants to sit behind the wheel herself.

In season 7:

This is pretty much exactly what happens. She can't stop arguing with almost every decision Jon makes, even directly contradicting him in front of his bannerman - but is aghast when he decides to leave and put her in charge. Then she finds herself conflicted: she reluctantly finds she's good at playing Lady of Winterfell, and somewhat enjoys the power, but hates dealing with the delicate, dangerous and stressful political balancing she has to do (until, with some help, she has it neatly disposed of...)

Much like Qyburn down south, it's much more convenient for her to let someone she knows she can influence take the personal risks. On that note...


Fun bonus observation

A recurring motif in both the books and the show is similar events happening to very different characters under very different circumstances.

In this episode, we get two scenes which, in some ways, are incredibly similar:

  • An ashen-faced character is improbably proclaimed to be a monarch in the hall where they spent frustrating years sitting on the sidelines, in front of assembled lords and ladies. They might have idly fantasised about this, once, never thinking it possible, but they're not smiling, because of the tragic circumstances of how they came to be here and the challenge they now face.
  • Both have claims to the throne that are shaky at best
  • By their side is an ally who is smiling. This person is in position to be the power behind the throne. They're smarter and shrewder than the person on the throne, and are happy to let them take the danger, pressure and responsibility.
  • The woman of the two makes uncomfortable eye-contact with a man hanging back behind the main crowd in the left hand side of the audience, with whom she has an uncertain, complicated relationship. They don't know if they can trust each other, and she doesn't know if he'll be a valuable ally or mortal threat.
  • In season 7:

    There is a simmering power struggle between the woman and this man, which eventually explodes into an open conflict which ends with the woman ordering the man's execution (with very different levels of conviction and very different outcomes, see below...).

...while in some ways, the two scenes are almost polar opposites:

  • One is in a rich and lavish hall, but it has an atmosphere of oppressive gloom. A gold and red palette is muted with dark shadows. The other is in an improverished war-torn hall, but it has an atmosphere of cheer and excitement. A grey palette is enlivened with bright daylight.
  • One desperately wanted to rule, the other tried to avoid it.
  • You don't need me to explain the differences in character between the monarchs Jon and Cersei, or the advisers Sansa and Qyburn... That sharp contrast is likely to be a major theme of the next season!
  • In season 7:

    It was. Though Qyburn didn't have such a big role on screen - Cersei has remembered how to scheme unaided.

    Also, regarding the two executions mentioned above: one executioner, in front of a supportive audience, knows when to carry out the execution without needing to be explicitly told to; the other, in a secretive private meeting, knows not to carry out the execution, despite being explicitly told to.

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    Yet another answer that I can link to when someone asks me why I love this site. – Kalissar Jul 11 '16 at 13:18
  • Your supreme court analogy is marvellous! – C.Koca Jul 11 '16 at 18:33
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    Shut up and take my rep! – Möoz Aug 14 '17 at 2:48
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Ideally, a female true born daughter takes precedence over a male bastard son. However, Westeros has had succession crises before that were due to bastards contesting the claims of their true born siblings. Most notably the Blackfyre Rebellion, where Daemon Blackfyre (a legitimized bastard of King Aegon IV Targaryen) attempted to take the Iron Throne from his true born brother Daeron II. Many Westerosi nobles sided with Daemon as they saw him as a more fit king than Daeron.

The raising of Jon is a very similar situation for several reasons:

  1. Sansa's status as a Stark isn't very clear. She was first married to Tyrion Lannister, and although it was never consummated the Northmen have only her word for that. Next she was married to Ramsay Bolton, which was consummated.

  2. Jon has more experience as a leader. He used to be Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and he led his army bravely against impossible odds in the siege of Winterfell.

  3. The rousing speech by Lyanna Mormont (AKA toughest little thing in Westeros) extolled the virtues of Jon as a true Stark if not by name then by actions.

  • right so what i said in the latter part? (observed) experience of jon + unclear status of sansa? – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 9:09
  • Toughest little thing after Robb Stark's meat. – Levent Jul 9 '16 at 11:38
  • This is not only a great and enjoyable answer but also a brilliant analysis of the themes and artifacts of the series. If I could upvote +100 I would. – Jorge Córdoba Jul 11 '16 at 11:58
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A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45 we learn that

Robb Stark intended to legitimize John Snow and name him his heir after the "deaths" of Bran and Rickon.

It's very possible, given their council positions, that many of the lords present were aware of this intention, and combined with his experience and general impressiveness, that this intention, even if it was never made official is a good enough reason for John to be recognized as such.

Robb had in fact written a decree to this matter:

Robb stood, and as quick as that, her fate was settled. He picked up a sheet of parchment. "One more matter. Lord Balon has left chaos in his wake, we hope. I would not do the same. Yet I have no son as yet, my brothers Bran and Rickon are dead, and my sister is wed to a Lannister. I've thought long and hard about who might follow me. I command you now as my true and loyal lords to fix your seals to this document as witnesses to my decision."

Though we don't know who is really named we can safely presume that Robb has carried through with his decision.

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No, it's not about capability but legitimacy.

When Jon and Sansa are looking for backup to House of Mormont (S06E07), Lyanna Mormont says (what she wrote in the letter that turn down Stannis Baratheon):

Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark.

On hearing Jon says

I've come with my sister to ask for House Mormont's allegiance.

Lyanna answers

As far as I understand, you're a Snow, and lady Sansa is a Bolton. Or is she Lannister?

I've heard conflicting reports.

See? Sansa is not considered a Stark officially.

Sansa to people who watch TV:

Sansa Stark -> Sansa Stark -> Sansa Stark

Sansa to people in Westeros:

Sansa Stark -> Sansa Lannister -> Sansa Bolton

The North kneel to Stark, and the only known surviving wolf is Jon.

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The northern Lords saw Jon Snow as a capable leader. They didn't see Sansa as such.

Maybe they chose him because leadership mattered more to them than her legitimate birth claim.

It's not the first time somebody saw themselves as a better leader than a person with a better claim and got others to back their claim. (e.g. - Renly over Stannis, Robert over Aerys, Roose Bolton over the remaining Starks)

  • right so (observed) experience then? – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 9:08
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As far as I have read in the books,

It has led me to believe if Sansa hadn't been forced to marry Tyrion, and was in the North, they would've given allegiance to her.

This is probably because:

Everyone else can safely be presumed dead and Sansa isn't in a position to rule.

Also:

when Jon was talking about his childhood, there was a scene with him and Robb where they talked about ruling Winterfell. Robb said, I don't remember the exact phrase, something along the lines of "since you're a bastard, you have no right to rule." This would seemingly imply that his claim would be far weaker than anyone else's.

  • So probably experience then? – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 4:43
  • @BCLC I haven't seen the show, so could you describe to me her exact situation? – Areeb Jul 9 '16 at 4:45
  • the male has more experience with politics than the female I guess – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 6:22
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    @BCLC I would be careful with my words if I were you. They didn't choose Jon because they think males have more experience. They chose Jon, who happened to be male, because he has more experience than Sansa who happens to be a female. Reading your statement gives the impression of bias towards males which isn't the case in much of Westeros afaik, compared to Earth. – thegreatjedi Jul 9 '16 at 7:15
  • @thegreatjedi i said the male and the female to avoid spoilers. i did not say males have more experience than females – BCLC Jul 9 '16 at 7:52
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Because as far as they are concerned, he has defeated the Boltons, avenged the Red Wedding and therefore deserves the title.

Sansa actually did a lot by calling in the Knights of the Vale, the Lady Mormont and the other Lords as they see him as the rightful ruler and proclaim him King in the North. Sansa could argue the point but unless they all said 'Oh, right you are the Queen in the North' you'd just get more infighting. Exactly what the North doesn't need.

So basically he's the king because that's who the other lords chose.

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