Child and adolescent characters are, I find, one of the areas where fandom tends to disagree most harshly. While adults are easy to relate to, children are “foreign”. One of the fallacies of memory is that we can accurately recall our childhood. Memory is actually very elastic and easily (unintentionally) altered. Especially when recalling childhood, we’re most likely to impose our current beliefs and behavior on past memories. This is why people are apt to say, “I was never that bad when I was their age”, etc.
So when people are trying to compare their own past to, say, the children of ASOIAF, they’re rarely going to be accurate. Even if they can recall how they were as a child, however, they often judge child characters using adult standards (whether they realize this or not). This is the fallacy that children have the ability to think logically. Simple fact is, logic is one of the last parts of cognition to develop. Early adolescence, 11-13 for most children, is when children gain the ability to:
- understand abstract principles
- compare different points of view
- question underlying worldviews/authority/social standards
- reason based on known principles
- think about their own thought process
While children do sometimes develop pieces of these cognitive actions sooner than adolescence, it is neither consistent nor something they’re aware of. As frustrating as it is to adults, children often remain ignorant of “basic” concepts of reasoning and self-control. Young adolescents are more easily controlled by impulses and societal pressures, and often fail to connect actions with the appropriate consequences. This is not the fault of the adolescent, nor a sign of mental weakness, but simply a part of cognitive development.
When people compare the character of Sansa to any other female character (except maybe Jeyne Poole), they’re failing to understand the fact that she (unlike other characters) is a child-woman. Not a child, not a woman, but caught somewhere in between. Her brain is a fireworks show of neural reorganization, a mess of developing pathways and new experiences.
And that’s just her at the start of GoT. After Ned’s death, her character is twisted and pulled apart by the effects of trauma, abuse, and chronic stress, all leading to a very obvious case of adolescent PTSD.
All the above is just generalization, though. Let’s go over the particular points, bit by bit.