Back with more Game of Thrones posts, today we’re going to focus on the Starks and go more in depth with the fate of our favorite and most sorrow prone family.
The Starks have had a rough series run. The majority of Starks have been killed off, and those who haven’t were put through the ringer. Bran was crippled in episode one and now appears dead inside after taking on the responsibilities of the three eyed raven. Sansa has been married or engaged to plenty of terrible people, beaten, raped and generally tormented. And Arya endured abuse as a servant for the Lannisters and later as a trainee assassin, even having her sight stolen from her for a time. It is not easy to be a Stark. So how are they going to come out of this story? Will they have a triumphant ending or will their journey end in tragedy?
I should mention that for the purpose of this post I am NOT going to be talking about Jon Snow. While I consider him, personality wise, more of a Stark than a Targaryen, I am still going to save him for the Targaryen post, just so I don’t have so much to write.
That said, let’s focus on the true remaining Starks: Sansa, Arya and Bran.
Game of Thrones has garnered a reputation for killing off main characters with no mercy. However, there was never a doubt in my mind that these three would make it this far. Because these are characters that suffer rather than die. That is the hallmark of their journeys: Suffering great personal losses and having to change to overcome the world around them. They are children who had to grow up very quickly to survive and they all developed into very different people. This is significant because none of them are a plot device in someone else’s story.
Take Shae, Oberyn and Tywin for instance. Each of these characters was killed off in season 4. But their deaths were not culminations of their own arcs but rather, Tyrion’s. Oberyn had to die so that Tyrion was forced to leave Westeros. Shae died as Tyrion’s tragic love interest, breaking his heart. And Tywin’s death was a long time coming and showed Tyrion finally standing up to his father. These characters, while all very interesting, were never going to be major players because they were tied to a different POV character.
On the other hand: Arya, Sansa and Bran are each a part of their own story. Therefore, they had substantial plot armor throughout the show. It’s not a knock against the show’s quality. All fictional stories have characters with plot armor. Some characters are necessary to the plot.
But now we must ask what the culmination of all this Stark suffering will be. After losing so many family members and spending their days in hellish environments, how will this madness end? With triumph or tragedy?
I think the answer is different for each of the Stark children, so I’ll cover each of their arcs separately before talking about them and their family as a whole.
Let’s start with Bran, the youngest surviving Stark and the plot device that started it all. Bran’s fall from the tower is one of the great inciting incidents of Game of Thrones and it sends him on a journey of self-discovery. He learns more about his magical powers with the help of friends and, after being kicked out of his home by Theon, goes beyond the wall to the tree he saw in his dreams. There he becomes the new Three Eyed Raven, ascending to a higher form.
In many ways, Bran is already dead. His wolf, Summer, has been symbolically killed and he is a shadow of his former self. Really, he’s a plot potato, showing up to give exposition when needed but not doing much of his own volition. Because of this, his arc as a character seems to have ended already. He is no longer Bran. He is the three eyed raven, and more of an accessory to other’s stories now.
For this reason, his journey will likely end in tragedy. His suffering has culminated in his rise as the Three eyed raven, learning to fly. But as he is so powerful, the plot cannot allow him to live. It’s too easy to have an all seeing person around and that can open up a lot of plot holes if the all-seeing person doesn’t dispense much needed information.
Thus, Bran will fall in season eight, coming full circle from season one. His first death scare came in the first episode, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he lives up until one of the last episodes, maybe even sacrificing himself to help defeat the Night King. He does have one of the most personal relationships with the Night King because of his visions, so it would not be surprising if he was key to taking him down.
Alternatively, if Bran does live, he must find himself again and divorce himself from the three eyed raven. I don’t know if that is even possible, but I am open to possibilities. Maybe he could lose his memory again in an echo of the first episode. Right now, however, it seems like he will follow his wolf to the grave.
Next we come to Sansa, one of my favorite characters, and also my candidate for most likely to survive this damn show. If someone asked me to bet my money on ONE character who I thought would survive Game of Thrones, I’d bet on Sansa. I would have bet on Sansa since the end of season one when we see her first true moment of strength.
Sansa’s arc has been marked by suffering, suffering and more suffering. She has arguably suffered more humiliation than anyone else on the show, being engaged to Joffery, beaten and psychologically tormented, married off to Tyrion, the member of the house that killed her family, engaged to another prick shortly after escaping while Littlefinger creepily preys on her, sold to the Boltons and tortured and raped by Ramsay. I could go on. But Sansa is the example of a character who started off naïve and slowly but surely learned to play the game.
With each passing season she got better at lying and hiding her true emotions, developing a mask worthy of even the best manipulators. She has become a powerhouse much like Dany and Cersei, but in my opinion, she’s a smarter politician than Dany and has a kinder heart than Cersei. She has become the game’s best player.
And since this show is called Game of Thrones, this means good things for Sansa. Now that she has finally cast off her so called ‘mentor’ Littlefinger, she has really come into her own. Not only that, but she is back at Winterfell where she belongs, along with her surviving family. This is a well earned victory for Sansa. And while season 8 will no doubt be a hard road for her, the only satisfying ending for Sansa Stark is her survival.
If she suffered so long only to die, it would feel excessive. This show has not been building to Sansa’s tragic downfall but her rise. When all the soldiers and fighters lay dead on the battlefield, she will outlive them all and be the one to bring the Stark house into spring.
And last we come to my dearest Arya. The treasure of my heart. While I grew to love Sansa, Arya has been a favorite of mine since day one because I’m biased toward tomboys. Which is why I’m extremely nervous for her in the upcoming season of Game of Thrones.
But let’s reflect back on Arya’s journey first. Our pint sized Stark daughter has been through her fair share of suffering too. She watched her father die, then narrowly escaped the castle dressed like a boy. Soon after she fell into the hands of Lannister men and was forced to serve the patriarch of the family who destroyed hers. She survived travelling with the Brotherhood without Banners and the Hound and, after months without seeing her family, thought she might finally reunite with her mother and brother. Instead, she bore witness to the red wedding. This started her on the path of a killer, which eventually led her to Bravos where she endured the ruthless training regimen that one day even left her without her sight. Still, after all of this, she could not become faceless or abandon her family. She is still a Stark through and through.
At the beginning of season 7 was worried that Arya may have fully changed into an assassin when she did not immediately return to Winterfell. However, it is clear that by this season’s end, Arya has chosen her family over her vengeance, even making up with her sister Sansa. Her list is nearly exhausted and she just wants to protect the loved ones she has left.
Arya has had one of the journey’s most independent from other characters. She didn’t see any of her family since season one and wasn’t even in Westeros for two whole seasons. Now that she has returned with bad ass fighting skills and come into possession of a Valyrian steel dagger, it is clear she will play a big part in the war to come.
I stated in a previous post that Arya was one of my 50/50, live/die characters. Because there are a few ways I can see her story going.
1. The tragic revenge plot- Though she wants to become a Stark again, she has gone too far down the dark path and cannot leave the assassin life behind. She decides to go after Cersei herself and ultimately loses her life.
2. The sacrificial hero- Now that Arya is back with her family she will do anything to protect them, including sacrifice her own life. When one of her loved ones is in danger, probably Jon, she will step in to defend them. She can’t watch one of her siblings die again without doing something about it.
3. The survivor- Arya has already suffered a lot and proved herself a survivor. If she makes it through the Game of Thrones, she will experience more loss, but ultimately become stronger for it.
Whatever the result, Arya will never be a player of the game. She will not be a lady in a castle but rather her own person, following her own path. If she survives the war, she may even travel to get away from Westeros for a while. Now that she has seen so much she can never fit into a mold again. Her ending will be bittersweet no matter what. Though I would not complain if she and Gendry got a sweet resolution.
The Starks as a whole
Whoever lives and dies, the Stark family must survive. After suffering so much, the name Stark will continue one way or another. It will be the finest revenge against their enemies: enduring. At this point, either Sansa will be the lone survivor of her house (not counting Jon if he lives), or the two sisters will live on. It is up for debate.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Next week we’ll talk about the Lannisters.