This post is the third of seven posts covering the latest season (season 7) of Game of Thrones. The previous posts can be found here and here. If spoilers, including material from the books and fan theories aren’t your thing, you might not want to scroll down too far down
In the last post, I discussed the possible fates of the survivors of House Lannister and the fate of their houses. It occurred to me halfway through that the ‘Great Houses’ political structure of Westeros has more or less fully collapsed at this point. Tyrion’s remarks about the merits of a more democratic rule – what with the spectre of Dany’s inability to have children – will probably lead to the Houses having a much more diminished role in the post-war future. I will get to the expected aftermath of the war in a future post; for this post, I’ll be looking at the Starks and where they will end up by the end of the series. A Song of Ice and Fire began as a Stark story. I don’t think it was ever meant to only be a Stark story but almost every single Stark has gotten a POV chapter in the books. Ned, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Jon; the narrative, initially at least, was heavily focused on them. Slowly, the story sprawled, as such stories tend to do, to include other families but at its greatest extent, I would argue that it was only ever a story of three feuding families – the Lannisters, the Targaryens and the Starks.
The Pack That Survives
“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives”
This quote resurfaced from season 1; a timely reminder of the importance of unity. I mentioned in the first post in this series that I was no fan of the way that the writers forced an awkward and unnecessarily out of character confrontation between Arya and Sansa. It is not the first time they have done so either; earlier episodes in the season hinted at the possibility of Sansa resenting Jon’s leadership of the Northerners. The Starks have lost a great deal; before this season, you could argue that they had lost more than any other House in the war. With the tumbling of Highgarden, Sunspear and even Casterly Rock, I don’t know if that still holds true. Of the next generation of Starks however, only Sansa, Arya and Bran remain. We will come to the question of Jon’s Stark-ness in a later post, which should perhaps give you an indication of how I see his loyalties changing.
What is left for Sansa to do?
There is a fairly standard fantasy trope about a group of childhood friends – or siblings – being separated by a traumatic event (usually perpetuated by the villain) and then going their different ways and gathering their unique skills before reuniting to defeat the original villain. You could argue that Lord of the Rings did it; I also saw it most recently in the Acacia series by David Anthony Durham. It’s clear that Jon has gone on to become a warrior and a front-line leader of men, Arya has become a Faceless Man and Bran has become more academically inclined. What Sansa has become is not quite clear to me – are we supposed to look at her and see a capable administrator? An effective schemer, a manipulator? Is she supposed to some kind of political force in her own right?
Disappointingly, I don’t see any of it. I had some issues with the way she dealt with Littlefinger and for most of the season, I found that she was always off balance, rarely fully in charge as you would want from a Lady of Winterfell. Furthermore, as the story likely becomes more and more driven by the clashes with the Others, and less by politics and intrigue, I wonder what role Sansa will play. I can perhaps see her being the representative for the North’s interests now that Jon seems to have sort of promoted himself to the Leader of the Allied Coalition. I suppose she could become the voice that speaks for the Northern Lords – and the Lords of the Vale, I guess – should Dany and Jon plot plans that are too extreme. I’m just not really looking forward to it; I have been waiting for a number of seasons for the big pay-off to Sansa’s character arc. She’s been kicked around by the story for almost 6 seasons; she got her revenge on Ramsay in Season 6 and her triumph over Littlefinger (however botched) this season, but I have to ask – is that it? Is that all her character was meant to do? I know she isn’t the most prominent character in the story but surely, she should have some larger part to play in the story from here on out? Whatever it is, I just can’t see it.
Beyond the events of the next season however, I think I can see where Sansa’s character ends up. I can see her being the last surviving one of Ned’s children; I will make my argument for why Arya and Bran will likely die in Season 8 but beyond that, like Tyrion, Sansa is a survivor. The culmination of her character could very well be her getting exactly what she wanted at the start of the series; a good match for a husband, a keep to rule over (Winterfell), but in a typical twist, none of it would have been worth the cost she had to pay to get there. But who knows? Her role in the after-story could be even greater; with a closer bond to the Iron Throne through Jon, she might gain more influence than the North has had in a long, long time.
Does Arya survive?
Jon (to Arya): “You’ll be sewing all through winter. When the spring thaw comes, they will find your body with a needle still locked tight between your frozen fingers.”
Your mileage may vary on whether the above quote is foreshadowing. I personally wouldn’t really want Arya to die beyond the Wall, frozen in ice, but at the same time, my main reason for not wanting that was because I like Arya. Or at least, I liked the character Arya used to be before she fully internalised her Faceless Man character. Now, she just seems smug and above-it-all, which is annoying because I had always imagined Arya as scrappy, temperamental but warmer to those she cares about.
Before we get to the all important question of whether Arya dies or not, we should also remember that there are a few names on her list that need to be taken care of. I didn’t think of it at the time, but Arya would another suitable option to take Cersei down while also fulfilling the valonqar prophecy. Beyond that, I am less sure of what exactly Arya does in the next season. I am greatly looking forward to her reunion with Jon; I am particularly interested in seeing his reaction to what his adorable little sister has turned into, and her reaction to learning that her half-brother is actually her cousin. I don’t think either revelation will really change the dynamic of the relationship too much; I can see Arya following Jon and Davos the way Jorah follows Dany, though obviously for different reasons. I can see her joining Jon, Jaime and a few others on their suicide mission into the Heart of Winter to kill the Night’s King. Whether she too dies along the way, is less clear. I don’t see her returning; she could one of the sacrifices that Jon must make in order to forge Lightbringer – assuming of course that he, not Dany, is Azor Ahai – or she could just as easily return but realise the civilian life isn’t for her and thus open a branch of the Faceless Men in Westeros. Simply put, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go, just for the dramatic gut-punch to the audience and the characters.
The Three Eyed Raven – military intelligence or a specialised assassin?
Bran’s fate, like Arya’s, is a mystery to me. On one hand, Bran’s abilities make him a really powerful gift for the Allied forces; with his warging, he can provide better military intelligence than anyone in the setting has any right to expect. As a particularly powerful warg, he could perhaps also take control of a dragon – maybe even Viserion, should it come to that. One of the problems in the way that the series has re-introduced Bran as the Three Eyed Raven is that we have no idea what his powers are or his strength. In the books, we could see Bran struggle to bring his abilities to bear, but in the series, it all seems so effortless now that it really does make it all the more important that we get some strict restrictions on what he can and can’t do.
Regardless, I don’t see a happy ending for him; on one hand, Bran no longer is really even alive and in a world where there is no overwhelming threat to unite all the factions, his power simply becomes too unwieldy in a story. Imagine Bran as the Master of Whispers – basically, there would simply be no way of getting anything past him. It would also be a distinct step down from the lofty position of the Three-Eyed Raven (when did that become a title anyway? I thought Bloodraven was The Three-Eyed Raven, not A Three Eyed Raven). At the same time though, I can’t see a clear way for him to die; it’s not like he is going to be sent to the frontlines and his relationships with the leadership of the Allied forces will ensure that he is kept at least as safe as someone like Sansa. That means that if he dies, it’s going be through some kind of warg, time-travel shenanigans. We have not really seen a ‘warg’ battle; two wargs fighting for the possession of an animal’s body – but it could be cool if Bran sacrifices his life to someone rid the Night King of his ability to control Viserion. I think Bran has earned a heroic death, all his creepy comments aside.
That was shorter than I expected; to be honest, the future for the Stark children is not as clear as I thought it would be, even now. Game of Thrones is not a series in which you can say – oh they made it to Season 8 so they’ll probably make it to the end. You could say that about Season 7, for example – no way was Jaime going to drown in a random lake after everything he has been through – but in Season 8, you know that many characters aren’t going to come out of it alive, so everyone is fair game.
Next up, the last keepers of the proud, wincestuous Targaryen legacy.
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