There’s nothing like seeing regal Sansa Stark standing on a windswept grassy hilltop, unabashedly channeling Beyoncé: “Where else can I gooohh! Chasing youuu! Memories turned to dust!…” The ever-upbeat Sophie Turner doesn’t carry her character’s wounded solemnity in real life — she can snap in and out of playing Sansa in an instant — which is for the best, considering that Turner’s season 5 story line had the chaste Winterfell heir becoming the brutalized bride-slave of the show’s biggest psychopath, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon).
For all her onscreen hardship, the arc gave Turner a chance to deliver her strongest performance yet and continued a dramatic evolution of the character, both on screen and among fans. Though the wedding night scene was a headline-making flashpoint, Sansa’s stock has been quietly rising among Thrones fandom for years. During the first couple seasons, cautious Sansa lived in the shadow of her lethally proactive younger sister, Arya (Maisie Williams). But as Sansa gradually worked her way from being Joffrey’s naive captive to becoming the gothic “Darth Sansa,” manipulating Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), and then struggling to escape the clutches of the Boltons, viewers increasingly empathized with her character and appreciated the way she handled the overwhelming situations she found herself in.
“I’ve had more people saying, ‘You’re my favorite character’ than ever before, which is amazing, because I used to get ‘You’re my least favorite character,'” says Turner, who makes her major feature debut this summer as Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse and is taking over EW’s Instagram account today.
Indeed, back when we spoke with Turner for season 3, she told some anecdotes of fans being pretty cruel on the subject. “A lot of fans who recognize me go, ‘I kind of hate you,'” Turner said at the time. “And I’m all, ‘Cool, well, you’ve just made this sufficiently awkward…'” Even back then, however, Turner had a healthy attitude about the situation, noting she still saw Sansa as a “kick-ass character” regardless of what people wrote online.
Heading into season 6, Sansa is one of the characters fans are most eager to see. “She’s definitely got a fan base now, and they’re rallying behind her,” Turner says. “Finally people see Sansa how I see her.”
And the timing couldn’t be better. Sansa has a major (and very mysterious) role this year. Having survived that leap from Winterfell’s castle wall in the season 5 finale, she has to try to escape Ramsay’s men and figure out how to reclaim her home. “Sophie really delivers this season,” says showrunner Dan Weiss. “She’s an extremely phenomenal actor, and this year she gets to go to places she’s never gone.”
Echoes writer-producer Bryan Cogman: “I’m very excited by where Sansa’s storyline is going this season, and I think Sophie is doing the best work she’s ever done in season 6.”
Adds Turner: “This is the season I’m most excited for. Sansa’s coming into her own and standing up for herself.”
So no more “Runnin'” — except when the cameras are off.
Check our Turner’s takeover of EW’s Instagram account here.
For more on Game of Thrones season 6, get the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly which goes behind the scenes in Northern Ireland and Spain, plus profiles six of the show’s female stars. EW has plenty of online Thrones coverage planned, too — exclusive news, cast interviews, recaps, and more (without spoiling any of the significant twists to come). Follow @jameshibberd for ongoing GoT scoop, subscribe to our Thrones email newsletter, and bookmark this page for our latest GoT stories. Thrones returns to HBO on April 24.