'Game of Thrones' Premiere: Inside Sansa Stark's First Major Victory

Game of Thrones-sansa-H 2016
Courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six premiere of Game of Thrones, "The Red Woman."]

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) only met the Hound (Sandor Clegane) in passing once, but he understands the full power of the fire-scorched soldier's namesake all the same. After serving cruel Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) under the guise of "Reek," watching the twisted Bastard of Bolton serve up his enemies to the literal dogs, Theon knows just how horrific man's best friend can be, depending on the man.

It's why Theon lacks any hesitation whatsoever when faced with a choice in the Game of Thrones season six premiere: Plunge into a frozen river, or wait around for certain evisceration at the collective buzz-maw of Ramsay's hounds. It's more of a choice for Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), frantic and frazzled after escaping Winterfell, now a nightmare version of the place she once called home; but for Theon, this isn't The Oregon Trail. It's not a debate between caulking wagons or fording rivers. It's only a matter of moving as far forward and away from the dogs of war as humanly possible.

For Theon, it's a rare act of bravery and action, not just in recent years, but for the character at large. Even before he was disowned by House Greyjoy and dismembered by House Bolton, Theon was a scoundrel at best, infamously promiscuous, impulsive and cocksure. These days? Not so much. But breaking away from Ramsay, pledging himself to Sansa Stark, helping her wade through frozen waters and warming her up on the other side of the ice, has started a fire within him.

"It was gratifying to play," Allen tells The Hollywood Reporter about the scene. "It's appropriate, too, because I think that's where the humanity comes back into him. He finally starts worrying about somebody else's safety other than his own."

The bitter cold sequence was not as much of a hardship in reality, of course; not even close. "It was in the middle of July, so it was actually quite warm," recalls Sophie Turner. The viewer wouldn't know it based on watching the scene; add it to the list of magic acts Game of Thrones regularly performs, almost literally in the case of the premiere.

But there's no digital enhancement involved in the upswings for not just Theon, but Sansa as well. When the eldest Stark daughter first began her journey, she fancied herself a fairy-tale princess, with visions of one day becoming queen. In reality, the path was much darker, illuminated not by glitter and gold, but by the severed heads of her friends and family. One wicked fiance and two husbands later, Sansa was poised to become the Lady of Winterfell — albeit at the mercy of a physically and emotionally abusive husband, more monster than human. 

Now, however, things are looking up for Sansa, after surviving the frozen adventure thanks to both Theon and to the deux ex machina known as Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). Brienne's attack on the Bolton men, perfectly timed to save Sansa's life, played big at the season six Hollywood premiere, eliciting massive cheers from cast and crew alike.

"It was awesome," Turner says of seeing the moment play out. "It was shot over four days and was very segmented, so I didn't get to see any of the stunt stuff — so seeing it [onscreen], it looked so cool. It was amazing."

Sansa's onscreen sibling Maisie Williams agrees, and knows a thing or two about encounters with Brienne. Once upon a time, the so-called Brienne the Beauty offered to rescue Arya from the Hound, but the young wolf rejected Brienne's services. While Arya's current situation remains blindingly bleak, Williams takes comfort in at least one Stark finally finding a true ally.

"Sansa's had it so hard, and finally, for something to go right, and to know as an audience member that she's actually in really safe hands with Brienne, is lovely," says Williams. "It's not just some guy with a shady hidden agenda. We have seen Brienne be very faithful and honest, so you know now that Sansa's in very good hands."

For her part, at least initially, Turner was somewhat wary of the moment: "I kind of read it and thought, 'OK, she's the damsel in distress again. She's narrowly surviving, again. She's saved, but it's at the hands of someone else.'"

But to hear Turner tell it, subsequent episodes will see Sansa behind the wheel, proactively piloting her way through the complicated political landscape of both the North and the Seven Kingdoms.

"This season is a really big change for her," she says. "Even if you're not Team Sansa yet, I think people will really rally behind her this year. I think people will hop on board. I've been telling everybody for years she's always had the potential."

But what about the potential for her traveling companion, Theon? Was his act of bravery in the premiere a sign of things to come, or a momentary lapse in Reekness? For Allen, he hopes it's both, insofar as he believes Theon needs to reclaim the word "Reek."

"Any man who's has his willy chopped off is going to have trouble becoming the man he once was," Allen says, "but to put a finger on where he's going, in terms of how much Reek is in there and how much Theon is in there, I can't really put a percentage on it. But I always thought it would be interesting if he took ownership of that name, Reek, and made it an image of strength, and just did away with the Greyjoy name. He's just constantly getting f—ed over by his family."

Of course, the bad Greyjoy days aren't entirely behind Theon, or at least are not behind Thrones as a show; the Iron Islands are poised for a comeback role this season, with the arrival of Theon's uncle Euron Crow's Eye (Pilou Asbaek), among other characters. But those are future concerns. In the here and now, when faced with a frozen fork in the road, Theon takes a page out of the late Stannis Baratheon's playbook: "Forward; only forward."

What's your take on Theon and Sansa's story? Find more Game of Thrones recaps, interviews and analysis here.