While everybody in Westeros is plotting, scheming and furiously preparing for war when Season 7 of Game Of Thrones begins, only Ser Davos Seaworth has the foresight and the selfless intellect to observe that everything — every allegiance, every ancient feud, every thirst for power felt by somebody with a claim to the Iron Throne — is irrelevant. Once the White Walkers come, the only endgame is survival.
But south of Winterfell, the few who've even heard whispers of the White Walkers (like Tyrion) choose to dismiss those whispers as myth, and the rest exist in a state of blissful ignorance, their energies focused solely on the Iron Throne. That renders the people of the North, now united behind their King, Jon Snow, the only players in the great game who truly understand what's at stake.
But it's Sansa Stark, not her brother, who could prove to hold the fate of the North in her hands when Game Of Thrones returns.
In last season's game-changing finale, 'The Winds of Winter', Littlefinger finally made his true intentions clear to Sansa, sharing with her the vision which motivates his every move — "A picture of me, on the Iron Throne, and you by my side."
Going into Season 7, what makes Sansa so powerful, potentially so dangerous, is the sense of mystery which swirls around her loyalties like a dense fog. Whether she chooses to betray her bloodline and work with Littlefinger (thus prioritizing the pursuit of power at any cost) or to work with Jon and betray Littlefinger (thus heeding the words of Ser Davos and opening the door to an alliance in the south) will determine the North's next move. Only in unity can it prepare the rest of Westeros for the White Walkers.
Sansa's evolution over the course of six seasons, from the naive and spoiled daughter of a lord to a self-preservationist and master tactician, came to a peak in 'The Battle of the Bastards'. Through the merciless manner in which she turned Ramsay into dog food after the Battle of Winterfell, we saw something new in Ned's eldest daughter — a sense of sadistic enjoyment in taking revenge. Married with her decision to go behind Jon's back and call in the Knights of the Vale, there's something almost Machiavellian about this new, improved incarnation of Sansa Stark.
Considering her time spent in proximity to Littlefinger, perhaps that's not a surprise, and it makes her unpredictable, a wildcard in contrast to Jon Snow, who wears his emotions so openly that he's easily-read by allies and enemies. When Littlefinger tells Sansa she's the "Last best hope against the coming storm," is she really inclined to be swayed by the man who sold her into slavery with Ramsay Bolton?
Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the grey area between absolute devotion to Jon and the House Stark, and a political allegiance with Littlefinger. Sansa's response to Lord Baelish's "pretty picture" was one of pity. It's not her dream. But he did seem to identify that this new, more level-headed Sansa, who coolly accepted that Rickon was already dead while Jon still held out hope, now operates on her own terms, her only loyalty awarded to herself.
I think there's a strong chance that Sansa will grow into a Lady Macbeth-style figure. In supporting Jon as King of the North, she will use the powers of manipulation learned while on the run with Littlefinger to seize a degree of the power which should, rightfully, be hers. It's possible that she senses an opportunity to continue learning the art of political machinations from Littlefinger in the immediate future, perhaps playing the role of a younger Catelyn to keep him on side, until the moment comes that he's no longer valuable to her — at which point she will destroy him and breathe a sigh of relief.
It may be guesswork, but Sansa could toe the line between heroine and villain in a way no other major player in Game Of Thrones has, giving Benioff and Weiss the chance to keep us guessing about where her loyalties truly lie — and about whether the North can unite with the Lannisters and the Targaryens before the White Walkers come — until the crucial moment.
In a show whose every twist and turn is second-guessed, it's satisfying to wonder whether Sansa is one step ahead of her family, of Littlefinger... and of us.
Game Of Thrones Season 7 begins July 14 on HBO.