Thanks to the return of Rickon on Game of Thrones last week, we've finally got an up-to-date look at all of the (surviving) Stark children — and oh, how they have changed. Ned and Catelyn's brood have grown up in front of our very eyes and the true extent of their transformation was strikingly apparent on Sunday night when the youngest Stark —who most of us remember as nothing more than a little boy — turned up as a teenager.
Ned, Catelyn and, to my own personal devastation, Robb may have met their sticky ends, but the five remaining family members are still going strong (for now). I thought I would take this opportunity to look at what Westeros's most famous family have been through and just how much they've changed between seasons 1 and 6 — before anyone else gets killed off!
1. Jon Snow
"My watch is ended."
Whatever theory you might believe, it's almost certain that Jon has some Stark blood in his body, so of course I'm including him on this list. Jon has really come into his own over the course of the series, transforming from an insecure young man living under his father's protection into an honorable, experienced (wink, wink) leader of men.
After leaving Winterfell behind, Jon found a place of acceptance at the Wall, where the circumstances of his birth were not important. Not only did he manage to infiltrate a notoriously fierce and unforgiving army of wildlings, he also let his guard down enough to fall in love with one of their women.
It hasn't all been an easy ride, of course. Poor Ygritte was shot down in front of his very eyes, he had a somewhat terrifying altercation with the Night's King and, oh yeah, he was stabbed to death by people he thought he could trust. But all of that's behind him now, and if the latest episode is anything to go by, he has reawakened an even stronger man than before.
With some potentially major storylines coming up — R + L = J, the attack of the White Walkers, a possible rebellion against Ramsay — I think it's safe to say that Jon Snow (or Stark or Targaryen or whoever he is) isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"I'm Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home and you can't frighten me."
There's no denying Sansa has had a seriously shit time since she first left Winterfell in Season 1, starting right back in the very beginning when her poor direwolf Lady was sentenced to death in only the second episode of the series. From that point on, things only got worse.
From watching her own father lose his head, being tortured by Joffrey and getting her first period under the watchful eye of Cersei Lannister, to becoming Baelish's bitch and suffering rape at the hands of Ramsay, Sansa has required a hell of a lot of lemon cakes to make it through the last few years.
But every (dark, thunderous, seemingly never-ending) cloud has a silver lining and Sansa has undoubtedly changed for the better. She's gone from innocent, weak, quite feeble and naive, to mature and able to manipulate when it suits her, using the power in her beauty as an advantage. With a fierce new attitude and Brienne by her side, Sansa is not to be underestimated.
"You know who I am. I'm Arya Stark. Do you know who you are? You're no one. You're nothing."
Since the very beginning, Arya has rejected the notion that she must become a lady and marry for influence and power. Rather, she has always believed she can forge her own destiny — and over the last couple of seasons she has very much proved that to be true.
Her training started way back in Season 1 with the late Syrio Forel of Braavos; little did she know the extent to which the skills would later come in handy. Arya's by far the most well-traveled of the Stark siblings and, while her journey certainly hasn't come without challenges, she has forged a lot of great friendships: Gendry, Jaqen, the Hound, even Tywin Lannister at one stage.
Although fiercely independent and unconstrained by social expectations, there's no skirting around the fact that Arya has endured a constant stream of loss and trauma, events that have undeniably made her colder and more driven to seek revenge on those who have wronged her and her family.
Initially horrified at accidentally stabbing that King's Landing stable boy back in Season 1, five seasons later Arya is more than capable of killing without remorse and has accepted Syrio's belief that the only true god is Death. Her training at the House of Black and White might be brutal, but it is what she asked for. The only question that remains is: Who is next to be checked off her Kill List?
"My dreams are different."
It really does seem like a lifetime ago that Bran was climbing the walls at Winterfell, dreaming of one day becoming a knight of the Kingsguard or a even a bannerman for his brother, Robb (*sob*). Sadly, little Bran's dreams turned to dust when Jaime Lannister pushed him out of a tower window and destroyed any hope the young boy had of marching for anyone.
It would seem, however, that losing some ability in his body has forced Bran to tune in to a deeper and far more powerful mental capability that he never knew he had. Thanks to Jojen and the Three-Eyed Raven, we have watched Bran's supernatural senses heighten before our very eyes and already he has become skilled in warging and greensight, faculties that have allowed him (in a way) to walk again.
His journey might have been long and arduous, but Bran has been lucky, unlike so many of his siblings, to have had the stability, familiarity and loyal friendship of both Hodor and his direwolf Summer to see him through. His hard work really does seem to be paying off this season, and it's clear he will be an integral part of the fight against the White Walkers.
"We're not Southerners, and I don't want to leave you."
We might not know much about the older Rickon just yet, but it's clear from his appearance alone that he has changed. What really happened during his stay at Last Hearth (the seat of House Umber) is anyone's guess, but I suspect there is more going on than meets the eye.
While he has often been overshadowed by big brother Bran, it would appear that this season he's going to have a much bigger part to play, particularly in the Starks' reclaiming of Winterfell. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the showrunners will at least keep the youngest Stark alive long enough for him to prove his worth.