Apr 16 2011 12:35pm

The Women in Game of Thrones: Arya and Sansa Stark

Arya and Sansa Stark

Like Winter, spoilers are coming...!

“So if you hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a good woman, and Sansa…Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you…and I need both of you, gods help me.”

George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is part romance, part murder mystery, fantasy (though light on the magic), and political thriller. It is also, at its core, an inter- and intra-family drama. It is a story of siblings: The relationship of Robert Baratheon with his brothers Stannis and Renly is important. The fate of a nation at times hinges on the interaction between Catelyn Tully Stark and her sister Lysa.

The siblings Lannister of Casterly Rock, Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion are central to all of the seven kingdoms in Westeros. Even in days past, Ned Stark’s allegiance to his family, particularly his brother, had him wed Catelyn when his brother, her original betrothed, was killed. The Starks of Winterfell are an oasis of family cohesion...almost.

HBO debuts its miniseries version of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones on April 17th, and today we consider Eddard’s daughters, Arya and Sansa Stark, who are far more than just pawns in the game.

It isn’t that Arya Stark doesn’t love her older sister, Sansa, or vice versa. They are just very different. Sansa is the perfect highborn daughter. Her looks are perfect, her manners perfect. Her singing, her dancing...even her needlework is exquisite. Sansa knows and, more importantly, relishes her place. She’s knowledgeable about who’s who and what’s what in the kingdom. She’s all set to make some highborn lord the perfect wife, just as she’s been taught since birth. And then, for someone who seems to have everything going for her, life gets even better! Her father is traveling south, to the heart of the kingdom, and she is to go with him. Not only is she going to live the life of fairy tales, but she is to be betrothed to a prince, who will one day make her queen of the realm. Yes, an arranged marriage, but one she would have chosen. Prince Joffrey is her golden-haired Prince Charming come to life.

Arya, of course, is the exact opposite of her sister. She isn’t good at any of the things she’s supposed to be good at. More importantly, she doesn’t care to be good at those things. There is no appeal for her in sewing and any of the other “womanly arts” that she’s supposed to learn. Arya would much rather be doing what her brothers do. Riding horses and learning swordsmanship and hunting and being outdoors. That is what interests her.

The trip south, though, opens wider the divide between the two. Both of them have grievances: Sansa feels that Arya lives to make trouble for her because she is jealous of her accomplishments and future position. Arya is aggrieved because when Sansa had a chance to tell the details of an incident they were involved in, with Prince Joffrey, she skirted the truth. And, as a result, one of Arya’s friends was killed. Arya wasn’t the only person punished in that episode, however, as Sansa’s pet direwolf, Lady, also lost her life in the incident. Even though Sansa began to really see (and hate) Queen Cersei after that incident, she still casts most of the blame for the ordeal on her sister.

As usually happens, Dad was right when he’d said they had bigger fish than each other to fight. By the end of the book, the sisters are separated and their family (and the realm) is in chaos. Both of the girls have been disillusioned and both of them would have given anything to turn back the clock to more simple days. The Stark words, “Winter is Coming,” stretch from Winterfell to the South where the warm winds blow cold for the Stark family.

This post and its ensuing discussion originally appeared on our sister site Heroes & Heartbreakers.

Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a longtime lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum.

Rob Munnelly
1. RobMRobM
Wow, quiet day here on

One funny note - Sansa's excellence in womanly arts has one exception, according to Arya - math. Great line where Arya says essentially "Hope Joffrey has a good steward."

I'm a little disappointed you combined these two. Each deserves her own post, IMO. Arya faces the problem of being a tomboy in a world that limits the role of nobleborn women to finding them good husbands in other noble houses, almost certainly far from home (a la Cat). I'm not sure there's any good role model for Arya elsewhere in Westeros. There are the Mormonts, I guess, but they take the woman warrior thing to an extreme. And there is Meera Reed. I wonder what her father's plans are relative to marriage. Doesn't seem to be any rush so far. In the southron houses, there is Brienne who has opted out of the marriage game entirely. Perhaps the best analog is Asha...? Hmmn.

Sansa has her own analysis which I'm not going to do more than touch on here. The paralells/contrasts with Cercei are interesting.

2. Foxessa
Sansa is the most original character in SoIaF -- maybe the most original female character in all of Fantasy. She's the most successful characterization in the work as well, because she is a new thing under the Fantasy sun. Whereas Anya -- we've seen hundreds of her in fiction, literary and otherwise, and certainly in fantasy and sf.

Brienne of Tarth is also a really fine, non-stereotypical character.

Sansa and Brienne are the ones whose futures I am curious about.

Love, C.
Sharat Buddhavarapu
3. Sharat Buddhavarapu
I don't know, from what little I've read of her Arya isn't stereotypical in any sense. Her character-type is of course, but I would count it against GRRM if he didn't include a female lead who openly rebels against society's roles for women.

Of course, excuse me if I'm wrong about her being THE rebellious female lead of the series, because I am only a few chapters into The Game of Thrones...
4. Ryan Viergutz
One of the coolest things about them is how they reflect both traits of the series: the highborn and the brutally bleak.

I look forward to them meeting again later in the series if they do so.
Maiane Bakroeva
5. Isilel
Arya is aggrieved because when Sansa had a chance to tell the details of an incident they were involved in, with Prince Joffrey, she skirted the truth. And, as a result, one of Arya’s friends was killed.

This is not true. The killer neither knew nor cared that there was a hearing - he murdered the friend in question before Sansa even had a chance to say her bit.

And yes, as RobM has already mentioned, Arya is actually is good at the one "lady-like" thing that Sansa fails at - doing household accounts.
Claire de Trafford
7. Booksnhorses
I'm definitely more 'Arya' than 'Sansa' in personality, and, yes, I went through the hate Sansa phase. But now she is getting very interesting and I also want to see more of how she develops.

Interestingly both girls have lost their wolves - what does this mean for their 'Starkness'. On the other hand it is suggested that Sansa is a 'Tully', whereas Ned tells Arya that she has the wild wolf blood like her aunt.
Again, is this linked to the fate of their wolves? Can't wait to find out.
8. Megaduck
ClairedeT @ 7


Arya has not lost her wolf, it's just not with her ATM. They do still have the connection between them the same as Jon and Ghost does. This is why Arya dreams in Nymaria's skin in aSoS when they find her mothers body and there is some indications that she is still dreaming there in aFfC.
10. peachy

@8 - Yeah, there's definitely some wolf-dreaming going on with both Arya and Jon.

@7 - Absolutely agree - Sansa is a great example of Martin's ability to gradually develop a character that's initially and legitimately pretty two-dimensional and make them really fascinating.
Matthew B
11. MatthewB
In a series full to the brim with tragedy, Sansa ranks pretty high on the list. To see all your dreams start to come true and then to find out that not only has it all gone to shit, but it was a lie all along? Harsh for anyone, especially a barely pubescent girl.

Arya is a cool kid and you can totally root for her, but hers is a much more formulaic arc.
12. step21
Arya: A really nice character imho.
Sansa: Most annoying character. I would not mind the whole 'highborne'/wanting to be married thing if she would not be so incredibly stupid and naive at the same time. Also actually wanting to marry dollface Geoffrey is really not a plus in any way. I do hope that she will see the error of her ways but I am not sure ...
13. pat15
Sansa did not bear witness against her sister, Arya. Just before this sceen Ned is teasing the King that the worst thing about his being king is that Ned cannot fight with him. Arya hit the prince multiple times. Also Nymeria used no more force than she needed to to prevent the prince who held a sword from attacking Arya. So who was controlling Nymeria? In contrast when Summer attacks the man who is threatening Bran's mother he uses immediate deadly force against a knife. Yet Bran remains unconcious.

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