Trust is hard to come by on Game of Thrones, and the remaining Starks know this better than anyone. They should be able to trust each other, but instead Arya and Sansa are locked in a frustrating dance of sibling rivalry orchestrated by Littlefinger. While another Stark (yes, I know Jon is actually half a Targaryen) is off proving that the men in this family don’t always make the best plans, the women of Winterfell are stuck in the past. Despite all they have been through, an old dynamic rears its head.
In part this feels like a relationship breakdown for contrivance sake; there needs to be some sort of conflict up North. But instead of having Sansa and Arya team up against Littlefinger, he is instead back to his role as master manipulator. The plotting of this story has been rushed from the start, going from a sweet and awkward reunion to Arya threatening to wear Sansa’s face. It also doesn’t make much sense to have these sisters — who have both been through so much — only briefly allude to this terrible time when they first reunite, without going any deeper.
There are non-specific references in “Beyond the Wall” to what Sansa has endured, and while I get why she doesn’t want to talk about these horrific experiences, it would definitely be to her benefit if she gave Arya some context. Or, get the Three-Eyed Raven to do it. After all, Bran instantly led with talk of Sansa’s sexual assault during her second wedding night, and he could fill in his other sister about this traumatic event.
This week is also the first time Arya hears about Sansa’s pivotal role in winning back Winterfell from the Boltons. Yet Sansa neglects to tell her that she didn’t trust Jon with the vital Knights of the Vale information — another plot contrivance to amp up the drama — and these interactions are frustrating to watch because Arya might be a little more sympathetic if she knew how hard Sansa fought for her freedom. It isn’t just a power play to get everyone to call her Lady and play out her “queen wish fulfillment.”
Instead, what we get is Arya repeatedly making vitriolic comments about how much her sister likes pretty and nice things, how she always wanted to be a queen, and that she wants to wrestle control away from Jon — in an argument that feels as rushed as it does sloppy. Pointing to how materialistic Sansa once was has Arya stuck very much in the past, as this version of her sister is nothing like the one that stands before her. Yes, Sansa in Season 1 was preoccupied with the perfect match and marrying her “beloved Joffrey,” but everything after the death of their father has been a fight for survival and escaping the nightmare version of the princess fantasy.
Arya thinks Sansa is now motivated by the desire for power, but the protection of their family home and those within its walls is her main concern. She fears this letter falling into the wrong hands because she knows just how fickle the lords can be, pointing to their wavering support of Jon to back up this observation. There’s a lot of Ned in both Stark sisters and they are unified by this bond of blood despite their very obvious differences. Visual reminders point to this and Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton makes note of this in a behind the scenes post saying “Sansa’s cape, for instance, represents Ned and her desire to take on more of a leadership role at Winterfell.”
It isn’t just Sansa who is emulating their father, and the laced brown leather jacket Arya has worn upon her return isn’t the only way she is mirroring Ned either; she’s also wearing her hair in the half up/half down Ned styling. It is one thing to both dress like their father, but they need to actually talk to each other rather than ending a conversation with not-so-veiled threats.