Ever since Season 1 ended with the Stark family scattered to the four winds and the seven kingdoms, we've been longing to see the siblings reunite. This is especially true of Arya and Sansa, two vastly different women who had a difficult relationship as children. We felt certain that, after all their trials and tribulations, from the schemes of palace courts to the shores of blood-drenched Braavos, Arya and Sansa would finally be able to unite in respecting the other's distinct form of badassery in a reunion that would be as poignant as it was satisfying.
Well, that's not what happened. No matter what you think of their reunion scene (personally I felt it was stifled, but that made sense with how much the two have been through), what happened next has left a sour taste in many a viewer's mouth. Instead of swapping tales of their hardships or advising each other on how best to deal with Jon Snow's increasingly ill-advised absence, Arya instead let past prejudices blind her, falling prey to a transparent shit-stirring plot from Littlefinger. And it's very difficult to work out if this is a realistic character flaw, or just lazy writing on the part of the showrunners.
Mistrust In House Stark
There are two things going on here: Arya's strange mistrust of Sansa, and the significance of the note (which, honestly, shouldn't matter in the slightest). In "Eastwatch", Arya observes Sansa dealing with complaints from the Northern lords about Jon's absence. Sansa listens, thanks them for their professed loyalty to her, then calmly reminds the lords that Jon is still their king, and concludes the session.
This is a nice example of how Sansa has grown as a character, how her authoritative confidence and cool demeanor can command hardened lords much older than herself. Or at least, that's what the audience took away from this scene. Arya somehow saw this as Sansa gunning for the position of Queen in the North, telling her sister so right after the session. She also took offense at Sansa sleeping in their parents quarters, despite the fact that these are the ones befitting her current position.
Basically, neither of the things that Arya is taking issue with matter. At all. Sansa gave her no reason to believe she was itching to usurp Jon, and yet that's exactly what Arya accused her of. Is this Arya's paranoia rearing its ugly head, or a remnant of her old arguments with Sansa when they were still children? Either way, it seems to be a nonsensical backwards step in character development, one which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. With all that Arya has learned, and with everything she's witnessed on her travels, it should take a lot more to shake her relationship with her sister.
That being said, the writers haven't done anything to build Arya and Sansa's relationship up before shaking its foundation. Like many other aspects of this episode — and this entire season — the conflict between Arya and Sansa seems rushed. Sansa, too, is not faultless: In her conversations with Arya she seems dismissive and almost condescending, just like she was in Season 1. Before falling back on old habits and quarrels, the sisters should at least have had a chance to bond and get to know each other again. But just like Littlefinger, the writers seem determined to throw conflict in for conflict's sake, and right now it just doesn't make much sense. So with that being said, let's examine the note.
The Letter Doesn't Matter
Remember that letter Sansa wrote to Robb back in Season 2? Under duress from Cersei, in the note Sansa pleaded with Robb to return to King's Landing and swear fealty to her "one true love," King Joffrey.
Anyone with two brain cells to rub together would realize that:
- a) Sansa was not able to resist the commands of the Lannisters when trapped in King's Landing.
- b) Sansa didn't mean anything she said in that letter.
In the years since, Sansa has gone from a naive child to a wily survivor, and above all else she has sought to return to Winterfell and her family — which to me speaks of her loyalty to the Starks. Of course, Arya doesn't know any of Sansa's actions in the past few years. But she does know what the situation in King's Landing was like when she left, and she should realize that this note proves nothing of her sister aside from Sansa's knack for survival.
Yet, Arya has always had a dogged, blinkered idea of how to act in certain situations. It could be that she firmly believes that Sansa — whose talent never lay in physical combat — should nonetheless have resisted the Lannisters until her last breath. What Arya, and fans who have criticized Sansa for years, don't understand is that Sansa's survival relies on emotional strength, and the cunning to outmanoeuvre even the best players in this game of thrones.
But Arya should be able to understand this. She's not an idiot, and she's not the same girl she was when her father died. Just as the critics of Sansa have shrunk in the fandom, Arya should have moved beyond her snap judgements of Sansa to recognize that they both have different strengths. And besides, it's not like the letter persuaded Robb to bend the knee to Joffrey — he brushed it off as a ploy from the Lannisters, and so should Arya.
So will this further bias Arya against Sansa? Probably. After all, that seems to be what the writers want. But does this make sense for Arya's character? It's difficult to say. Personally, I think that Arya has matured enough to understand her sister's position, and that her issues with Sansa are contrived at best. Also, that comment about chopping off heads was comically stupid. I refuse to believe even bloodthirsty Arya doesn't understand the difference between a battlefield and a courtroom — especially as her own father met such a sticky end.
Ultimately, whether it's in character or not, this plot point is just aggravating. Wouldn't it be much more interesting to see the sisters work together, after so many years apart? Wouldn't it be more satisfying to see Sansa and Arya marvel at how they've each grown, appreciating each other's differences and supporting them in this difficult time?
Probably. But then, this is the show that had Jon travel from Dragonstone to The Wall in about a day, so who even knows what's really going on any more.
Tell us in the comments: Do you think Sansa and Arya's conflict is realistic?