If, for television adaption, Sansa had to stand-in for a book character in Winterfell, why Jeyne Pool? She should have no longer been a plaything (as better commentators than me, like Lindsay Ellis, have explained)… She should have been a player in her own right. She should have been Barbrey Dustin. She could have visited Wyman Manderly, too, and been a not-as-cute Davos.
It’s genuinely not difficult to write a Northern subplot that’s less of a mess, though the point of divergence would have to be as early as Season 4.
Game of Thrones New Northern Sub-Plot
Sansa escapes the cloying clutches of Petyr Baelish, devising a flight by boat to White Harbour with the aid of Baelish’s man, Dontos. They find the Merman’s Court infested with Freys, and try to slip away… But both are seized, and thrown before Lord-Too-Fat, Wyman Manderly.
The North Remembers, Manderly says. Her brothers survive. Rickon is sheltered by the Umbers, Manderly’s co-conspirators, and he says Bran has sought out the wildlings.
Sansa dyes her hair and plays a lady waiting on Manderly’s daughter, and Dontos poses as a Knight of the Green Hand. With Manderly’s retinue, they go to investigate the wedding of a supposed Arya to Ramsay Bolton, heir to the Dreadfort… to open Winterfell’s gates to King Stannis… and ultimately, to install Sansa.
Sansa does not recognise “Arya”… But she recognises Theon Greyjoy, if only barely. Theon invites her for a walk, and they go into the dark of the crypts. Theon calls himself Reek. Sansa calls him Theon. He knows he is Theon, he says – because this could be no trick of Ramsay’s. He knows Sansa Stark. He swears that he did not kill her brothers. She knows. She forgives him, and he swears to aid her.
They set a plot in motion. A plot to oust the Freys and Boltons from Winterfell. Bodies fall in the night and are discovered in the morning.
… Until there comes, sudden in the night, horns. A column of knights bearing moon and falcon banners is invited into the castle. They have beat Stannis, whose army is up to its knees in snowdrifts.
Petyr Baelish offers the Boltons every courtesy. With Lysa, he has declared the Vale for Tommen. It was he who passed off one of his girls as Arya, and he is here for the wedding. It is a fatal coincidence.
But Baelish errs. He believes that as he tried to steal Sansa, so did Dontos. He is blinded by his mad fantasy of his Cat.
At the dinner table, he loudly offers the hand of one of his knights, a Lothor Brune, to “the Manderly lady-in-waiting”, knowing Dontos will defend her honour – and he is right, though he misjudges the reason.
Sansa again displays her wit. She asks that they duel after the wedding.
Day of the wedding. The bride is walked, the families feast.
Sansa tears off a headress and reveals she has washed the dye from her hair, calls on the Royces and Manderlys and other lords to vouch for her, and declares that the Arya on the dais is a false Stark.
Vale and Manderly knights slay Freys and Boltons. Baelish is cut down. Dontos is formally knighted as Ser Dontos of the Green Hand. Sansa is hailed as Warden of the North, and the gates are opened for Stannis.
Bonus points: a bard named Billy Idol calls it the White Wedding.
Alternatives: Bolton and Freys quash a starving Stannis before the wedding, and Sansa becomes Queen in the North.