Arya and Sansa's Intense 'Game of Thrones' Moment Can Only Mean One Thing
The world doesn't just let girls decide what to be.
This shared injustice, observed by Arya and absorbed by Sansa in Game of Thrones Season 7's sixth episode, "Beyond the Wall," should bring the Stark sisters closer together. But it doesn't. As our Thrones maester Dave noted after Arya infiltrated Littlefinger's room to find a long-forgotten note written by Sansa (under pressure from Cersei) in Season 1 asking Robb Stark to call off his march on King's Landing, the quarrelsome pair haven't seen each other in years, and yet they're butting heads like two longtime bunkmates. Like siblings who went separate ways only to reunite under the family roof during the holidays, being back in Winterfell reverts the young women to infantile states; the only childish quirk missing from Arya's confrontation with Sansa is an annoying dance of "na-na na-na boo-boo!"
Game of Thrones is in high-gear this season, with ravens sending key information quicker than email and characters traversing Westeros on an invisible hyperloop. And yet creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff still find time -- even more so than in Season 6 -- for small character beats, and essential moments of psychology, thanks to a string of long-awaited reunions. "Beyond the Wall" poses a simple question: Who are Arya and Sansa, after years in two different, but equally sucky trenches? The episode inches towards an answer, clashing them against one another with an aftermath that is anything but expected.
The short of it: in Game of Thrones, if someone hands you a knife, you use it. And now Sansa has the knife. So where do things go from here?
Remember where Arya and Sansa are coming from"Beyond the Wall" delves into to the past to give us a clearer idea of how a key relationship might play out after the Long Night is over. Early in the episode, Arya tells a story about sneaking into the Winterfell courtyard for a unladylike round of archery -- which her father witnessed and applauded. Years after his death, Ned continues to be a driving force for Arya. He was the model knight she pined to become. He was pure, and was punished for it. Now with the discovery of the note, his legacy is also a wedge between Arya and her sister.
But Sansa is a warrior, too. Not only does she remind Arya (and us) that she's the reason Jon Snow won the Battle of the Bastards, calling upon Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale in the nick of time, but she's suffered "things you could never imagine." Arya knows the world doesn't let girls be what they want to be, but she also doesn't know much about what the world does want girls to be -- she escaped the system. Sansa felt the hand of men in the worst ways imaginable, from her time with Joffrey to Littlefinger's slimy manipulations to a literal violation: her rape by Ramsay Bolton. Arya can blame Sansa for not doing anything about Ned -- it's not like Arya did anything either -- but the blame is knocking a victim who's been knocked time and time again.
This seems to impact Arya, although she's on the offensive when the two collide again toward the end of the episode. After shaming her in the spot where Ned Stark used to watch his children train, then batting her around with Braavosian mind games, Arya handed a spooked Sansa the Catspaw Dagger, an item most show sleuths believe to be a Targaryen relic from the times of Aegon the Conqueror.
The question is the perpetual one for Thrones: Why? Seconds before turning over the weapon, Arya reminds her sister that, while they're on totally different paths in life, they've faced similar troubles:
We both wanted to be other people when we were younger. You wanted to be a queen sitting next to a handsome young king on the iron throne. I wanted to be a knight. To pick up a sword and go to battle. Neither of us got to be that other person.
That's why Arya keeps a bag packed with faces. In Season 6, the young Stark girl completed her training under her Faceless mentor Jaqen H'ghar by murdering the Waif. But she bungled the first assignment, sparing the life of an actress who reminded her why identity isn't all that bad. So she ditched the assassin's guild, but kept their prized possessions, the treated skin masks that make the Mission: Impossible crew seethe with envy. That is her life, she tells Sansa: She's not a knight, but may be a knight if she finds the right face and wants to slip into that life for a second or two.
Their mano-a-mano scene tenses up as Arya closes in on Sansa, turning her words, and the blade, toward a potential next victim. This could be revenge. "I can even become you," Arya says. "I wonder what it would feel like to wear those dresses."
We know Arya opts not to slice her sister's face off, but the intentions of this speech, and the reasoning behind gifting the Catspaw Dagger to Sansa, remain mysterious. Was this a change of heart? A coded call to action? Or perhaps a theatrical nudge to get Sansa playing a more brutal version of "the game"? Keep this in mind, first.
We wouldn't be here without LittlefingerVarys once described Petyr Baelish -- to his face, mind you -- as a man with great ambitions and no morals. "I wouldn't bet against you," he says. Few would, including Sansa, who has long been the object of Baelish's displaced longing for her mother, Catelyn Stark. And thus far in Season 7, Littlefinger's been flying under the radar and pulling strings with as much confidence as ever. If anyone could snag an underdog win in race for the throne, it could be him.
In "Beyond the Wall," he's successfully pitted the Stark women against one another by drawing on their worst instincts. Arya wants to know why her father had to die -- a question with no answer. Sansa wonders whether her sister is unhinged (and a few extra whispers from Littlefinger only fan the flame). But as soon as Arya hands Sansa the dagger, we know he screwed up. Like many, Varys underestimated the Stark women, if he knew them at all. It's time to bet against Littlefinger.
The above video recaps the path of Arya's dagger, but here's the briefing: In Season 1, someone hired an assassin, wielding this Valyrian steel blade, to kill Bran Stark. Littlefinger eventually tells Catelyn Stark that the blade is his, though he lost it to Tyrion in a bet, leading the Lady of Winterfell to go for the Lannister man's neck. Littlefinger manages to snag the dagger off Ned Stark's desk in the fourth episode of Season 1, and it's only cropped up again this year, gifted to Bran as a creepy memento of his fallen mother. Yeah, right.
Maybe Littlefinger gave Bran the dagger as an example of trust. Or maybe he knew the crippled boy would hand it off to his sister, who knows a thing or two about fighting (Littlefinger smirked when Arya and Brienne sparred in the Winterfell courtyard, so clearly the regifting accomplished something). In Littlefinger's mind, the scene in "Beyond the Wall" likely played out exactly as it was supposed to… until Arya flipped the knife. The veneer of a ruthless killer fell away. Sansa, a fresh-faced matriarch who in earlier years may have balked at her sister's offer, clasped the dagger. The age of Littlefinger worming his way into the heads of the Starks is over.
So why did Arya give Sansa the dagger?For the past few episodes, we've wondered if Season 7 would deliver Littlefinger's final moment, or at least set his demise in motion. But it always looked like the younger Stark's kill to make. After all, it was Baelish who orchestrated the War of the Five Kings by convincing Lysa Arryn to poison her husband, Jon Arryn, and initiate conflict between the Starks and Lannisters. And after receiving the dagger, Bran immediately handed it to Arya -- someone who could wield it with a vengeance, which made Littlefinger's death seem imminent. But at whose hands?
With Brienne off to King's Landing to meet with Cersei and the wight-capturing party, I see a farfetched possibility and one rooted in grisly, stark (pun intended) reality that takes quite seriously Arya's line about impersonating Sansa.
While it would be tough for Arya to pull a stunt like she did in the Season 7 premiere under the guise of her sister -- assuming that would involve murdering Sansa, removing her face, then wearing the skin as she slashes Littlefinger to bits -- both sisters could be acquitted of any murderous accusations if Arya were to wear one of her other masks (Walder Frey? The one that looks weirdly like Sam Tarly?) to off Littlefinger in front of a crowd. That would involve Sansa giving back the dagger, a gesture that stands in for her stamp of approval. This seems like a rather intricate plan for two warring siblings, but with an 81-minute finale upon us, and the rules of the Faceless Men opening the door to anyone at any time actually being Arya in a mask, it's not an entirely outrageous theory.
The other option is more direct. Sansa has the blade now. She's often cornered by Littlefinger in shadowy rooms. It's not 100% clear whether Sansa or Arya know that Baelish set up their note-provoked squabble, although Arya's at least on to something by gifting the blade. Maybe Sansa recognizes what's really going on -- she wasn't just pleasantly surprised to find herself standing after Arya's bizarre speech; the gears were cranking. If Arya has transferred some of the weight of their fathers' death on to her shoulders, Sansa could find solace in finally taking Littlefinger out of the game. Sansa has suffered things not even Arya could imagine. Now she could be the one to enact the ultimate coming-of-age act in Westeros.
There's actually a third possibility that's hard to stomach: the vindication of Varys. Maybe no one should bet against Littlefinger. Arya handing off the dagger could be a headstrong move that pushes Sansa to take out her own kin. The decision wouldn't change much for The North, but could be catastrophic when Jon Snow learns of the news. A civil war could brew after the Long Night. A true tragedy could erupt. I wouldn't put it past George R.R. Martin. Evil liars like Littlefinger get away with shit in real life all the time.
But the dagger scene can only mean one thing, in my mind: someone's going to die. We're due for a shock in Season 7, and the pieces are on the Winterfell board. The question is who and why. The dagger points towards Littlefinger, but whatever happens, the ripple effect could be devastating. Or freeing. Or both. That's the Thrones way. As Arya and Sansa have learned over seven difficult seasons, the road to self-actualization is winding and wet with blood -- just hopefully not their own.