Watching Game of Thrones over the years, I grew up with the Stark siblings. Sansa and Arya Stark began as naive children in season one, and grew into truly formidable women. Over eight seasons, the sisters both went through terrible and life-changing events that formed them into who they are now. Here we are celebrating their best moments, and what makes them such complex, empowering women.
They faced the worse and adapted
When everything goes crazy at the end of season one, the two sisters find themselves in very different situations. Sansa is still promised to Joffrey, so with the help of Tyrion, and later Margaery, she falls into line as the perfect, obedient lady. She slyly protests in any way she can, such as when she disguises a diss at Joffrey as an insult against her brother, Robb, the “King in the North.”
For Arya, she is sent on the run alongside Gendry, who’s hiding for a similar reason. Arya pretends to be a boy, then meets Jaqen H’ghar and saves his life. She is able to trick him into helping her escape Harrenhal, and he offers to take her to Braavos to train as one of the Faceless Men.
She says no, and ends up a hostage of The Hound. Their relationship is definitely complicated, but Arya’s strength and dedication rubs off on him, and he becomes protective and begins to care about her.
When The Hound attempts to ransom her off to her brother, she sees the immediate aftermath of the Red Wedding, losing two more of her family members. Assuming that everyone else in her family is dead, Arya finds a purpose in crossing the names off her list, so she goes to Braavos to train and become an assassin.
They learned all they could from those around them
In Braavos, Arya is blinded and trained to be “no one.” She succeeds in becoming one of the Faceless Men, but can’t forget her past. Arya knows that she wants her enemies to know who killed them, so she takes what she learned and heads off to finish her revenge.
With Sansa, her main ally quickly becomes Petyr Baelish, who obviously has ulterior motives. But after seeing everything she has, Sansa pretends to be naive and helpless, all the while taking notes and learning to be just as manipulative as Littlefinger.
Of course, it all goes to hell when Littlefinger marries Sansa off to the embodiment of evil: Ramsay Bolton. While suffering his abuse, Sansa manages to connect with Theon, getting through Ramsay’s conditioning and inspiring loyalty, like Arya with The Hound, which has continued into season eight.
Back in Winterfell, Sansa finds a sense of comfort and strength that allows her to show her intelligence without fear, and use it to benefit herself and her family. When Arya comes home, we start questioning if the sisters can reconnect and trust each other. Despite being apart for so long, Sansa and Arya automatically become a unit. They trick the ultimate trickster, Petyr Baelish, and solidify their control of Winterfell and the Stark family name.
They know their strengths: Sansa with her intelligent mind, and Arya with her perseverance and fighting ability
Arya and Sansa’s contrasting experiences forced them to become very different people in order to survive. The strength of their relationship comes from being able to fully respect that. Arya’s statement to Jon, when she says “Sansa’s the smartest person I’ve ever met,” shows how much they see and understand each other, and that they intend to stand together going forward.
When Sansa and Arya are talking about their past troubles, Arya claims that she would’ve never survived what Sansa went through. Knowing her sister, Sansa tells her she would have, saying, “You’re the strongest person I know.” We love supportive sisters!
Sansa uses her intelligence to navigate society and expectations of her position and gender, and use that to her advantage. We see this when she helps Jon win the Battle of the Bastards, thanks to her connection to Littlefinger and House Arryn. Arya, on the other hand, is immensely talented in the art of fighting and killing. Along with that, she knows how to appear unthreatening, well aware of how her appearance causes other people to underestimate her, like with Brienne.
They embrace who they are
With the freedom of home, Sansa and Arya are finally able to be themselves again. Sansa’s a grown woman, and she understands her duties as Lady of the North. She intends to defend her people, and is not afraid of anyone, shown through her ability to stand up to Daenerys and speak her mind. Arya is the complete opposite of Sansa. She’s not feminine, she sometimes uses violence to deal with her issues, and she doesn’t fall into her expected role within the Stark family.
They both learn to trust other people again, and encourage loyalty in others. Sansa has this with Theon, who chooses to come back to Winterfell and fight for the Starks, despite being reunited with his sister. Arya couldn’t continue being a faceless person because she couldn’t let go of her past, enemies, siblings, and all. And in season eight, she’s fully embracing the woman she is, and the woman she wants to be.
A key moment came in last week’s episode, when Arya chooses to have sex with Gendry. Luckily, Arya’s never experienced the sort of relationships and abuse others have, like Sansa and Daenerys. She knows she wants to experience sex before the big battle, so Arya takes control, picking someone she really trusts and is attracted to for the job. Her ability to choose should be celebrated, and Arya has never done anything she didn’t want to do.
Family is still most important to them
The Stark family is as loyal as they come. While all the other families are seriously messed up, the Starks (though they do have their issues) are a real family, full of love and trust. Over the seasons, Winterfell is destroyed, conquered, and continually threatened, but it’s their home.
Once the family is reunited, they all stand together to defend everything they love. When Sansa sees Jon again, she apologizes for how she treated him when they were younger, knowing it’s important that they completely trust each other. But more than that, she stands by his side as he’s named the new King in the North.
She’s still the Lady of Winterfell, so she advises him on his decisions. Sansa’s very intuitive and observant, and she knows Jon, so when it seems like his emotions are guiding his choices, she is unafraid to speak up about it. Arya’s return brings about the downfall of Petyr Baelish, and she reminds Jon of valuing his family above all else. After spending years with only herself to worry about, Arya quickly adjusted her priorities to include her family again.
The North Remembers
Sansa and Arya started out their story as innocent pawns in the adults’ games. They were forced to grow up fast, and while others, like Tommen, found themselves unable to change in order to survive, the Stark sisters’ desire to be happy and together once again gave them something to keep fighting for, even through the worst times. By season eight, they’ve become two of the most resilient and powerful people in the Seven Kingdoms, and we can only hope that they stay together and make it to the end. Even if they don’t, we’ll know that their strength is what saved the North.
As they say, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives…
Watch a new episode of Game of Thrones on HBO tonight!