Would anyone care if Arya Stark and her satchel of faces died in the Game of Thrones finale?
After this week’s episode, where she confronted her sister Sansa and accused her of fealty to the Lannisters, people have finally started to realize that Arya is kind of a jerk. But I’d argue she’s always been the inferior Stark sister and Sansa has deserved nothing but your goddamn respect.
The strongest women of Westeros have been raped and terrorized. Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen have each been imprisoned and abused by malevolent men. But they’ve each risen from those lows and gained strength they’d never previously had. Cersei has done it through murder and mayhem and Daenerys through pretending to free people from bondage (just so they can serve her, as Jon Snow helpfully reminded Missandei this season), but Sansa is the only one who has risen to power without being a bloodthirsty and revenge-happy murderer—unlike her sister.
Arya has gone from a plucky young girl who wanted to be a knight instead of a princess to a stealthy assassin formidable enough to battle with Lady Brienne and brag about having a bag full of faces of people she can impersonate because “a girl is nobody.” A girl needs to chill.
Little sis was mildly shocked to learn that Sansa had been raped and tortured during her absence, but still kept acting like Sansa betrayed their family by having once obeyed Cersei because she didn’t want to be murdered like their father. Furthermore, as fashion writers Tom and Lorenzo pointed out in their analysis of the Game of Thrones wardrobe this season, Arya is no saint here:
“Arya is something of a hypocrite, whether the story wants to admit it or not. The former cup-bearer of Tywin Lannister doesn’t really have any room to judge Sansa for doing what she had to to survive. And if the story won’t overtly make that point, the costume design is doing it rather subtly. This is a new ensemble for Arya. While she’s clearly eschewing the pretty dresses she seems to think characterize her sister, she’s nonetheless wearing some incredibly meticulous and finely rendered clothing, the likes of which she’s never worn except when she lived at Winterfell. In other words, Arya came home to the seat of her family’s wealth—which Sansa suffered mightily to re-secure—and then helped herself to the kind of fine craftsmanship available to House Stark in order to put together this finely crafted ensemble.”
Which brings up the most prescient point about Arya versus Sansa that everyone but the writers seems to realize: The sisters aren’t that different, and the reason why Arya is presented as such is because of a lack of imagination on the creators’ parts. For male writers, women tend to gain strength through being raped or by eschewing femininity and embracing masculine traits. Arya’s short haircuts and her insistence that she’s a warrior and not just a princess are supposed to be empowering, but it actually comes across rather sad. Arya is a “strong female character” because she’s abandoned her femininity. This is how most women who are action heroines seem to be written by men: strength at the cost of losing that which makes them inherently women.
Sansa’s femininity has always been seen as a negative by many fans. She’s been branded an “idiot” and inferior to everyone else because she wasn’t wheeling and dealing like Cersei or taking back the night like Arya. But it’s Sansa who steered the foolhardy Jon Snow to victory in the Battle of the Bastards by invoking the knights of the Vale and reclaimed Winterfell. All Arya did was go hang out with some faceless weirdos and learn how to be a killing machine, serve up some Frey pie, then come back home to sass her sister. Sis, if you can really impersonate anyone like you say then why haven’t you marched into King’s Landing to kill Cersei yet? Arya is about as useful as Bran at this point while she’s sipping wine and eating cheese and living in the lap of luxury built on Sansa’s torment.
Of course in a perfect world, Sansa and Arya would get over their drama and come to realize that the bond of sisterhood is more important than fighting for some proverbial throne. But given how the women of Westeros have been written thus far, I’m not holding my breath. Just know that if Arya gets buck again, Sansa needs to serve her some Lannister wine.