Well then. We are back in our Winterhell 3.0 plotline, this time with no Boltons. And really, if you think about it, the only antagonist was the writers’ ineptitude. If you missed Part 1, please go back as Julie—Kylie+Julia—take you through a high level recap of the events in Winterhell in Game of Thrones Season 7.
Here though, we’re not just going to talk about what happened. We’re going to talk about why it happened and what it all means, so as to understand what master showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D, with their well-earned Masters’ in fine arts) were trying to say.
If you did read Part 1, you can surely understand, then, why it is that we’ve been sitting and staring at a blank google document for fifty minutes. In fact, if we had our druthers, Julia would be explaining her latest workout in detail, while Kylie would be secretly watching Wind Waker HD speedruns as she talks. Because really…what could anyone possibly say about this? It existed, for several episodes, and there’s certainly no denying that fact. We’re just not sure why.
Sansa’s Sibling Sorrow!
One thing we are sure of, however, is that Sansa is the protagonist. It’s not just that she is in a position of power and agency within Winterhell (finally), nor that we happened to be compelled by what she was saying in just about every scene. Rather, it’s that the problems presented to us—Arya is unhappy with her, the Northern Lords are fussy and mercurial, Littlefinger is up to something, Jon leaves her with a major responsibility and doesn’t check back in—are all hers to solve.
We suppose there’s probably viewers who agreed with what Arya was saying, but even in that case, it was still Sansa’s actions that resolved everything. Even Arya executing Littlefinger was Sansa’s call (though she didn’t explicitly pass a sentence). This can only make sense if she is the main actor here.
So given that she’s the protagonist, what is her story? Because the most sense of it we can make is that she has to react to her increasingly horrible siblings.
Jon ditches her with a royal mess on her hands (literally), makes her organize everything for his fight and keep his Lords in-check, and then he kneels away the kingdom without so much as consulting her. Bran is entirely unable to be warm or engaged with Sansa at all, or with the family’s political issues (until they come to a complete and horrible head), and only interacts with her by bringing up her trauma. Arya is suspicious of her from the outset, and literally threatens to kill her because she wears nice clothes and is taking care of things like Jon asked her to do.
When you think about it, the story of the Starks this season is quite tragic. They haven’t seen each other in years (though damn if we knew how many), and they’re more or less total strangers to one another. Jon and Sansa had to figure out how to work with each other last season, and even that still has residual awkwardness spilling into this year.
At the same time, there’s awkwardness, and there’s outright antagonism. Which we just don’t understand, especially given that the one person who you can feel the unconditional family love coming from is Sansa herself. So why is the story her family being horrible to her?
Are we supposed to think they’re not that horrible? We can accept that D&D think they’re writing Jon to be a capable leader, even though we strongly disagree. His points about the Karstark and Umber castles weren’t terrible, though the whole, “only a King can talk to a Queen” remains an obvious contrivance to get him to Dragonstone. But still, we could at least be okay with the idea that Jon has his governance style, and Sansa has hers, and neither one is without a point. (Except for Jon usually, because he’s an idiot.)
We’ll talk more about Bran later, but we can accept he’s not being horrible, so much as preoccupied with his new role and the responsibility that it entails. We think it reads rather robotically, but we do somewhat get what D&D were going for. Maybe.
However—and we’ve put a lot of thought into this—we just don’t see how anyone can possibly be on Arya’s side. You’d have to really, really hate Sansa to come away with the impression that anything Arya was saying had merit. In Season 1, Robb and Cat immediately explained that Sansa’s letter wasn’t really coming from her, so we think it’s reasonable to expect the audience to know that blaming her for what happened to Ned is totally unjust.
Then there’s the fact that Sansa’s ‘hyperambition’ to take Jon’s seat is never in evidence. Sure, D&D tell us in interviews that she’s a little resentful of Jon, but we never once see that on our screen. She thanks the Lords literally offering to give her the Queenship, but tells them “…Jon is our king. He is doing what he thinks is best.” What treachery.
Sansa doesn’t hesitate to tell Bran that he’s the Lord of Winterfell. The worst we can say about her at all is that when Littlefinger suggested unnaming Jon as king, she looked maybe mildly tempted for three seconds (or just like, contemplative), and then brought up Arya wanting to kill her as a deterrent instead of just rejecting the whole idea. But this is one private conversation long after Arya’s accused her of bringing about the downfall of House Stark, and wanting “nice things.” We think it’s reasonable if her sister’s threats would be forefront in her mind.
Also may we just say again: Jon really is a crappy king? Arya asking Sansa if she’d rather anyone else be ruling the North is kind of like…why wouldn’t you? He literally LEFT for the entire season so he could go get a girlfriend and micromanage glass mining.
It’s really Arya’s remarks about Sansa having Cat and Ned’s chambers, or wearing a dress to Ned’s beheading, that get to us the most and make us kind of suspect that this could be more about her jealousy than outright suspicion. (This may be just due to our knowledge of the Arya of the source material, though. That character has a much more nuanced relationship with traditional female roles, and with her sister as someone who’s naturally good at performing them.) Because even if we think Sansa is guilty of liking “nice things” (the horror), we still have to point to last season, when she told Jon to take the Lord’s chambers even before he was named King just to be nice. There hasn’t been one decision she’s made based on materialism or dresses, unless she only wanted the breastplates covered in leather as a fashion statement.
So nothing Arya says is backed up by the narrative. At all. Steelmanning this, let’s assume D&D know this and therefore Arya’s grievances are more about her being jealous of Sansa for having the pretty dresses and title. It’d help contextualize her weird “I’m going to wear your face” speech a bit better, if nothing else.
“I can even become you. I wonder what it would feel like to wear those pretty dresses. To be the Lady of Winterfell. All I’d need to find out is your face.”
We could even buy Arya’s jealousy being about Sansa’s close relationship with Jon. Maybe.
But the problem is, this is us trying really hard to be nice. It’s simply not on the screen, and the reason we know it wasn’t intentional can be found with the conclusion of this plotline. If it was supposed to be Arya acting out of pure jealousy, then what the hell is the off-screen “Littlefinger did it!” moment supposed to do? Unless it’s just Sansa throwing Arya an off-screen bone by letting her be involved in something vaguely official, there’s no connection to that jealousy thread at all.
Arya was appeased solely because Sansa had a trial against Littlefinger and called for his death. And her reasons for being appeased by that were because it proved Sansa wasn’t trying to undermine Jon, or her family, or hadn’t been the reason Ned died, or something. We’re sure it makes a lot of sense.
But of course, the issue there is that it requires the viewer to think Arya had a point. Which she didn’t, and we know she didn’t, because we watched everything Sansa did, and nothing even suggested ambition. She’s diplomatic and understands grain storage. She probably knows deep down that she’d be better at this than Jon (because she IS). But she’s loyal to Jon, and never thinks to do anything about it even when she’s explicitly offered his position. Because she loves him, and he’s her brother. …Half-brother.
What we don’t get is why the narrative doesn’t seem to understand this. After all, the same people are scripting Sansa as the rest of this, right? Or is Cogman in charge of her, and Dave Hill in charge of Arya, and this was all just some hilarious misunderstanding? But even then there’s weird moments like Jon saying she admires Cersei, and Sansa saying she learned a lot from her.
What did she learn from Cersei? Did they even interact in Season 3 and 4? Other than that one bit of dandy advice to sleep your way to the top that she got all the way back in “Blackwater,” we don’t even recall anything she could have learned. Maybe how to be put upon and stoic? She does have that down.
Seriously though, what gives? Do D&D just hate women in positions of authority and agency so much that their most innocuous and reasonable actions ever have dark implications in their mind, and every instance of assertiveness is treated as hysteria or scheming? Oh wait…yes.
We hate to keep coming back to that word that begins with “s-” and ends in “-exism,” but we truly think there’s no way you can come to the conclusion that Sansa’s behaving inappropriately unless you already believe it’s inappropriate for her to do anything to defend her own position. Because you already believe that position is not deserved, or something. And yet, based on the narrative, it seems clear that we’re supposed to think Arya had a point, and that Sansa did have to prove her loyalty, which is what Littlefinger’s death meant. It was choosing her family over her own not-in-evidence ambition.
Sometimes if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s two men with no imagination whatsoever demonizing female agency.
Speaking of Littlefinger. We touched on this several times in the recap, but: why in seven hells is he still alive? Sansa clearly doesn’t trust him or seem even interested in talking to him half the time (unless the scene demands it). Further, Lord Royce confirmed that the reason the Vale Lords are in Winterfell is because of Sansa specifically. Not to mention she had the “he murdered Lysa” ace in her deck since Season 4, and seemed to be aware that this would be a bit of a bombshell. After all, it’s what she led the trial with.
“You murdered our Aunt, Lysa Arryn. You pushed her through the Moon Door and watched her fall. Do you deny it?”
The best honeypot we can come up with is that Sansa, since she’s a “slow learner,” doesn’t realize that she’s competent enough to keep the Vale Lords leal. Also, to be fair, these Lords are fickle as shit, and we could see just not wanting to pull on any potential threads, especially since Sansa seems to think she can control Littlefinger. She tells Brienne, “I know what he wants,” so he poses little danger to her. OR DOES HE?
Again, this is us being very generous honeypotters, because if we’re being honest—the whole “we need his men” thing falls apart under minimal scrutiny. He sold you to your rapist! Take his army, explain to the Vale Lords why he’s awful, and push him off that damn battlement you’re always standing on top of!
We suspect part of it, too, is that D&D didn’t want Littlefinger to die in the same season as Ramsay. We don’t personally think Littlefinger is that much of a draw, but hey, everyone needs a bad guy to root against. How else will we know when to cheer?
We also want to say some brief words on Sansa’s relationship to Jon. Even though they were much more of a focal point last year, the first two episodes are spent with them butting heads over some very reasonable objections that Sansa brings up to his decisions. What’s weird is that it’s clear Sansa is coming from a place of concern and wanting Jon to stay alive, unlike Ned and Robb. Jon, however, seems hurt and aggravated every time she offers advice, and not just in front of the Lords either. Add to this the fact that he just sends letters checking in and mentioning kneeling without so much as talking to her.
The most generous we can be (we’re just supes magnanimous today) is that he knows he stole her seat, since at least last year he seemed to recognize that she was supposed to be the Lady of Winterfell. So maybe he feels insecure as the King when Ned’s trueborn eldest daughter is right fucking there? His reactions to her would then be out of defensiveness.
But no one really mentions her claim or how stupid his appointment as King was, so we don’t think that’s intentional. Instead, it seems like we’re supposed to think she is against him. That she shouldn’t be questioning his decisions in front of the Lords, or at all. Hell, he gets so insulted when she points out that allowing decisions to be questioned is a mark of a good ruler, that she has to tell him, “don’t worry, I don’t think you’re like Joffrey,” and then couches the rest of her conversation by prefacing everything with something really nice. It’s like a governance sandwich!
Then he says she admires Cersei. Okay.
You know what? Jon is an idiot, and a bit of a jerk. Meanwhile Sansa is probably going to be the one who bails his dumb ass out of the final battle with the Night’s King, and not even hesitate because she’s, you know, a good person. Who loves her family.
Thank god the plotline is all about her siblings not being able to love her back, while she has to jump through hoops to prove her loyalty that already exists. What the fuck kind of story is this?
Before we move on, we have one last thing to point out: Sansa’s not a slow learner. She behaved exactly like anyone else would in this situation, and probably better than most of us. If this is about her relationship with Littlefinger and trusting him…no. She didn’t trust him as soon as everything with Ramsay happened. That’s why she screamed at him in Mole’s Town last year and was hesitant to even accept his offer of the Knights of the Vale; she didn’t want to give him anything.
Hell, she didn’t even trust him in Season 4. Remember that time she told him that she knew what he wanted, and then when she lied to the Vale Lords it was clearly done so that she had something to hold over him? And her “shall we go?” was showing that she was in command of this? Not ringing any bells?
Cause here’s the thing: she wasn’t a slow learner ever. She just randomly stopped behaving like herself for Season 5 so that she could agree to marry Ramsay for revenge. Because D&D liked the plotline where Ramsay raped Jeyne Poole, and wanted to sub her into it. Then in Season 6, they had no track of her characterization at all, likely because they did this ridiculously out-of-character plotline and then had to somehow rationalize it and wrap it up, while also making Jon look like the big war hero.
It was a hot fucking mess from the inception, it was completely illogical, it has the world’s worst implications of any plotline, it was downright insulting to the viewer with how lazy and contrived it was, and it was unpleasant to watch. The one thing we will say is that it’s great to see Sansa finally being consistent this year. She’s competent, she’s empathetic, she’s smart, and yes…she likes
So fuck you for acting as though there’s some deep thematic meaning to her “I’m a slow learner.” She’s not, and using her to cover your own sloppy writing is in really horrible taste.
Arya’s Anger Augments!
There’s a second Stark sister in play here. We’d call it a “plotline,” but that’s so absurd as a descriptor for her collection of scenes that we’re just not going to even try.
We mean, Arya’s scenes before she gets to Winterfell don’t even seem to be in a particular order. We suppose her murdering House Frey needed to be first since that’s where she physically ended Season 6, but in terms of “arc,” there’s no rhyme or reason—something that’s happened to her scripting before.
Arya kills an entire House, and we’re supposed to think it’s awesome, and maybe vaguely feminist. Then she bonds with Ed Sheeran and sees a human side to the Lannister foe. Then she goes to the inn where she learns Jon is King in the North and turns around. Then she meets Nymeria, who is less enthused about Jon’s kingship than even we are.
We don’t get any of this. What were they going for at all? Ed Sheeran’s scene undermines the fist-pumping nature of the season opener. Was that intentional? Are we supposed to think what she did to House Frey was bad? Are we supposed to be worried for her? Benioff and Weiss don’t sound particularly worried for her when they talk about their cold opener. We get it was just a dumb cameo, but forgive us for having standards for Emmy-winning shows when it comes to consistency.
We could buy that we are supposed to be concerned for Arya since she acts completely deranged once she gets to Winterfell, to the degree that she’s maybe contemplating murdering her sister (or at least threatening her to make a point). But then there’s the weird choice to have her be perfectly sociable and able to chum it up with Ed Sheeran…just not with Hot Pie or her own fucking family. Additionally, Nymeria won’t go with her to Winterfell, because such domesticity is ‘not her.’ This implies that Arya’s choice to go to Winterfell was a positive one, and a move away from her concerning, kill-focused mentality. But then when she gets there she’s in a concerning, kill-focused mentality.
Does Nymeria turning away mean that Arya shouldn’t have gone back too? It’s ‘not her’ either, because she can’t handle being around her family without wanting to murder them (or their Lords)? It’s not a bad read, and frankly she seems more comfortable pursuing the names on her list than participating in smalltalk with her siblings. But then…as we said before, we’re supposed to think Arya has a point. So her disturbing behavior doesn’t have a larger purpose or connect to anything; she just kind of is an asshole.
(We still haven’t entirely given up on the honeypot that she just is, in fact, The Asshole.)
But if this is the case, then why was going to Winterfell “not” Nymeria? Or is it commentary on how maybe wolves are really not the best pets to have and there’s no identity attached to it? After all, neither Arya nor Jon have warged on the show.
We can keep talking in circles about this, but to be frank, we don’t have any fucking idea what they were going for. What makes sense to us would have been have the Frey scene been first, then she runs into Nymeria, who refuses her since Arya’s still going south to murder Cersei, then she meets Ed Sheeran and questions the nature of her list because of the nice Lannister soldiers. Then she meets Hot Pie and is actually nice to him because he’s, you know, a friend, and then she goes to Winterfell, having gained a new perspective on the futility of revenge and violence and a hope in the fundamental goodness of humanity.
But no. Arya just wanted to catch up with Jon and Nymeria didn’t. Then she more or less needed Sansa to have her own act of revenge to believe her loyalty. Revenge is good.
Benioff and Weiss don’t have much more to say about it beyond patting themselves on the back for the Season 1 reference. “Nymeria’s found her own life,” Benioff tells us. “[Arya] realizes that the wolf is doing exactly what she would do, if she were that wolf,” Weiss adds. Okay.
Ignoring D&D’s word salad (which is about all you ever get from them), we’d suggest that the point of Arya’s arc is to demonstrate how she can’t break out of this revenge pattern. There’s a cyclical nature to violence, which she’s found herself stuck in, and that’s bad. But of course, Littlefinger’s death was framed as a good thing for Sansa to have done, and he was guilty of everything, so we’re just confused.
Sansa was at least horrified by the idea of Arya’s list, and then the very literal evidence of it. Maybe we are supposed to be worried about Arya’s health. But then why was the conclusion of this plotline Sansa playing along with what Arya was demanding? Because if we’re supposed to think Arya is not in the best mental space, then her point of view really shouldn’t be validated. That’s what we call a contradiction.
In truth, we think the audience is supposed to find Arya to be awesome. She has her dark moments, but at the end of the day she just really wants to be there for her family. And she was an awesome knight character from the get-go, so she doesn’t have to prove anything. Unlike Sansa.
“Arya’s a rebel, and I think people are drawn to people who rebel against whatever the societal structures are. For me though, Sansa goes on one of the most interesting journeys. She doesn’t start out as someone who is really sharp, shrewd and tough, but she becomes that person. Arya is kind of always there, which is what’s great about her, but Sansa had to get there by painful experience.” —David Benioff
We do need to touch on a couple of aspects with that. For one, why in the fuck was Arya framing her murders as this great feminist platform? We’ve got her purposely excluding Frey women when she poisoned everyone at The Twins, which is…nice, we guess. But it also implies she thinks they’re incapable of having any responsibility for the actions of their House. Not to mention, if the goal is to wipe out the Freys, why would you exclude the population that, you know, creates more Freys?
But maybe she discovered their state of total oppression during the two weeks she was staying there.
Still, in addition to that very pointed choice (she outright makes gendered jabs as Walder Frey), we’ve got her telling Sansa that “little girls in Westeros don’t get to choose what they become.” Except she does, because she has murder masks.
We’re going to be honest here: we don’t think it’s a particularly feminist stance to celebrate murder. We don’t think killing people is all that and a bag of chips. It’s not like we’re rooting for her to have murdered the Frey women or anything (poor Karen from Poldark), it’s just that we can’t help but notice the way we’re meant to celebrate her revenge not just as revenge, but as quite explicitly empowering her. And her choice to spare the women, particularly the child-bride, makes it a principled form of revenge. It’s feminist, because she can choose to wear any face. She can pour wine at the Twins if that’s the life she wants to try on. Or live as Walder Frey for a fortnight.
Or be the Lady of Winterfell in pretty dresses.
Even Sansa “proves” herself as loyal to her House this season, and thus a worthy (temporary) ruler, through an act of violence. We can pretend this was an act of honorable justice, though need we remind you that “Thank you for your services, Lord Baelish,” is not actually passing a sentence. Also any sort of “justice” with Littlefinger was undercut by having him hang around for so long. Instead he seems like the hapless idiot who forgot about the CCTV department sitting in one of the Winterfell bedrooms.
The reason we bring this up is because Arya’s “empowerment” is, once again, based on a toxically masculine mold of strength. We think we’re supposed to take Arya’s speech about enjoying more social mobility than other women due to her faces at (and we’re sorry) face-value. Because there’s literally no benefit to her lying to Sansa in that moment, nor does that make sense in the context of the conversation.
Sansa: Those faces, what are they?
Arya: Is that what you should be asking? Are you sure? The game of faces didn’t turn out so well for the last person who asked me questions.
Sansa: Tell me what they are!
Arya: We both wanted to be other people when we were younger. You wanted to be a queen. To sit next to a handsome young king on the Iron Throne. I wanted to be a knight. To pick up a sword like father and go off to battle. Neither of us got to be the other person, did we? The world doesn’t just let girls decide what they are going to be. But I can now. With the faces I can choose.
So with that, are we supposed to be fist-pumping her kills because it gives her more choice for who she can become? Or are we supposed to feel inspired by this very literal social mobility? Because…we’re not. We think it’s pretty fucking horrible to murder people and then wear their faces, even if they’ve done wrong in the past. Call us bleeding hearts.
The second thing we wanted to bring up ties right into this: Arya’s contempt for Sansa’s conciliatory attitude and love of “nice things” is not the only demonization of more feminine-coded skills. Yes, we’re going to talk about the fucking socks again.
screamed said this on our podcast as the season was airing already, but needlework has a rather important economic function in pre-industrial societies. It’s the way in which people get clothed. Clothing is something armies, especially in the winter time, need to wear. They especially need socks, because they walk places. To fight battles. Often in very cold conditions.
It’s not for nothing that during both world wars, every government was very strongly encouraging women to knit socks and roll bandages. This was a key civilian contribution, because it was very fucking necessary. Access to good footwear could make or break armies in this kind of setting—no exaggeration.
The reason we keep going on about Lyanna’s stupid speech is because it’s so egregiously and lazily stupid. It’s one thing to have Lyanna herself buck this wartime role, especially given her position and the culture of Bear Island. But Lord Glover’s objection to putting a spear in his granddaughter’s hands really should have been more like, “I’m not going to put a spear in her hands because she’s already busy making provisions for our army. We don’t have time to train everyone, nor the resources where this makes any sense.” At the very least, we should have had coed sock-knitting sessions alongside the coed archery practice. Have the boys contribute, too.
But the point D&D was trying to make was clear: fighting is good and empowered and necessary, and knitting socks is stupid and only exists because sexism. We’re not saying wartime roles—or more specifically the gendered separation between those roles—weren’t sexist, of course. What we’re saying is that it’s not less sexist to completely devalue the “female” roles in this equation, and it’s just plain sloppy to act like they don’t have a function.
Add to this Arya shaming Sansa for wearing a dress to Ned’s execution (which no one knew was coming), and sleeping in the Lord’s chambers when she’s the Lady of Winterfell. Sansa was, and is, acting entirely appropriate for her station. In fact, she’s even re-wearing the same hideous outfit over and over, so it’s not like she isn’t getting mileage out of her “pretty” clothes. This might not be what Arya would personally choose for herself, but there’s no reason to condemn women who do. And it’s certainly not feminist. Incidentally, this is something that Arya in the books never does, but we don’t want to bore you by going on about that.
(We’d also point out that Sansa’s sartorial choices are rather crucial to her character’s survival.)
Basically, this entire thing was giving us horrible flashbacks to Talisa talking about how dumb feasts and dances are, because who even needs a consistent societal structure anymore? This is the North, and cool women don’t wear dresses, or knit, or sleep in assigned bedrooms, we guess. True Northerners sleep on a pile of pelts on the floor and run around with a smirk on their face.
Before we move entirely on from Arya, can we just ask: was there possibly a more lazy route for them to take with her scripting this year? She didn’t like Sansa when they were nine and eleven…they must not like each other now! She’s a tomboy and Sansa is a girly girl…that must be an issue and point of contention!
This is just a complete misunderstanding of who Arya even is supposed to be. She has a list of names because she cares about her family. Could she have even tried with Sansa, or expressed her concerns about Littlefinger to her face? Cause if she had, Sansa would have agreed! And then they both could have kept on sassing him together.
Once again, women are not allowed to have positive interactions, even when they’re traumatized sisters who just reunited. It’s some bullshit, and the fact that D&D try to shoehorn feminist grandstanding into this plotline by mocking dresses and socks and pacifism is just the icing on the misogyny cake.
Branbot’s Bug Boggles Brains!
We’re going to be brutally honest here: we almost forgot that we probably should say something about Bran. You know…the guy who is likely one of the three most important people in all of A Song of Ice and Fire? No biggie.
But that’s the thing, for D&D, he really doesn’t matter. This isn’t a shock, we hope, but Bran has hardly been a focal point of this show. He was benched during Season 5, and in Season 6 he served entirely as a window for other characters’ reveals.
This year, he was fully the Three Eyed Raven. It’s difficult to explain. We can tell that it means he’s not able to emote anymore, which strikes us as odd; in the Season 6 finale when he told Meera he was going to go back into Vision World (to the towah!), he had vocal inflection and seemed at least partially emotionally invested. Max von Sydow had certainly emoted in the roll of Three Eyed Raven before him, too.
The only options we’ve come up with are: 1) D&D didn’t really pay attention to how they were writing him last year, 2) Finding out Jon’s true parentage cut off his empathy to mankind, or 3) Bran spent too long “under the sea” (as it were) in Vision Land, and has kind of disconnected from his personal sense of self. Take your pick which one. We kind of know that the third option is a honeypot because of the inconsistency between Season 6’s finale and Season 7’s opener, but we could at least vaguely accept it. It has potential as something that could have been interesting, though of course it wasn’t explored.
Also, Meera’s scene does call out his detachment. So we know it’s at least intentional, though why is beyond us. Maybe it was so we’d take him super seriously as a character now, or maybe it was to impress on us how difficult it is to have access to this much knowledge, especially since he doesn’t even need a tree to look at things.
We personally think this is a terrible call; Bran was already a character who not many fans gravitated towards, and having him act like this isn’t really going to make him more relatable or seem more endearing. Instead, he’s just this weird robot now, and one who won’t even hug his sisters.
As for his role in this story, he’s once again only there to give exposition when the plot requires it. Now, we humbly submit a rather simple explanation for what the Three Eyed Raven means: the person who has read the scripts and is the keeper of dramatic reveals.
Think about it! Max von Sydow knew that when the army of the dead was knocking on his cave door, Bran needed to go back and look at the Hodor flashback, because then that created the very tense “hold the door” moment. Was that information in any way useful or pertinent? Of course not! But the time loop was a thing that ended the episode in a dramatic fashion.
Once Bran takes over the roll, he decides he needs to find out what was truly in the tower, even though the army of the dead was still chasing him and Meera, and they weren’t yet south of The Wall. This, again, did not help his situation in any way, but it created a nice crossfade to Jon, who was being made king at the same moment.
Bran had every reason in the world to tell Sansa (and Arya) about Jon’s parentage, especially when Sansa called Bran the Lord of Winterfell. “Hey, now that we’re discussing titles and stations, have I got some news for you…” Likewise, once Littlefinger randomly weirded into his room to give him a dagger, you’d think Bran would have done some digging. “Oh yeah, who did send that cut-throat? I had almost forgotten.” Clearly, he did do some digging, since Sansa brought that evidence out. There’s no reason this wouldn’t have taken place before the trial, or before Sansa’s prompting, unless we’re supposed to think Bran is indifferent about his family.
Which…maybe he is? But it amuses us to think that he’s more focused on giving the audience a dramatically satisfying finale.
Truthfully, there’s a bit of support for our theory. After all, he chums it up with Sam of all people, and then discloses the R+L=J secret to him of all people, for no other reason we can think of except that he must have been aware of the fact that Jon and Dany were having #boatsex and it provided a nice voice-over. Because seriously, Sam doesn’t even ask about this. He mentions Jon’s name, and Bran just randomly tells him who his real parents are. Jon was certainly mentioned in his vicinity with both Sansa and Arya; why not info-dump on them?
Trying to be super serious for a minute—there’s nothing to say about Bran here. We’d love to analyze whether it was him who told Sansa about Littlefinger, or if it was her who prompted him to look, but we really couldn’t tell you, because it didn’t happen on our screens. Too bad; that seems like the interaction with the most potential for him this year. No offense, Sam.
Bran is a nothing more than a plot device, and that’s just such a damn shame.
Brienne Is Also There!
You may have forgotten already, but Brienne was also here. In truth, we debated not talking about her at all, or at least saving our extremely brief comments for when she shows up in another plotline. However, after rewatching, we’re really pissed off with her usage here.
See, it’s fine that Littlefinger was trying to isolate Sansa. Well, not fine…narratively sound. It’s just that the Brienne factor made zero sense in any of this.
Brienne is sworn to serve both of Cat’s daughters. For the past couple of seasons, this meant Sansa, since she wasn’t able to successfully follow Arya at the end of Season 4. Sansa accepted Brienne into her service in the second episode of Season 6 (after rejecting her in Season 5 because she liked the taste of Littlefinger’s beer or something), and since then they’ve been shown to have a good relationship. An affectionate one, even. Sansa entrusted her to go speak with her uncle at Riverrun (fruitlessly, but still), and she seems to be receptive to any council Brienne offers, like when the she questioned Littlefinger’s head still being attached to its shoulders. Sansa certainly is in command and gets the final say, but Brienne was always something of a stable protector to her. Sansa even says as much.
“I am safe. I’m at home, surrounded by friends. I have Brienne to protect me from anyone who would harm me.” —Sansa to Littlefinger in “Dragonstone”
Enter Arya. Arya wants to spar with Brienne because she ~beat The Hound~. When she asks for this, she points out that Brienne is duty-bound to serve both her and Sansa, which makes Sansa balk from above. Then they fight for five minutes, and both seem to enjoy the experience. Right?
Later, when Sansa is worrying about Arya actually wanting to kill her, Littlefinger brings up that Brienne would be “honor-bound to intercede.” This distresses Sansa. And confuses us. The best sense of it we made based on what we watched was that she was worried Brienne might side with Arya.
It’s just, we really don’t buy that Brienne was ever even a remote threat to Sansa, nor would Sansa consider her such. In fact, Brienne seemed like the perfect candidate for Sansa to express her concerns about Arya to, and we suspect Sansa would know as much.
That doesn’t mean Brienne was a bad choice in emissary (a good move generally speaking, we might point out); but the idea that Sansa was so panicked to get Brienne away from Winterfell that she snapped at her and wouldn’t even let Pod stay behind rings incredibly false to us. It’s Brienne. One good sparring session doesn’t mean she’s suddenly going to chop of Sansa’s head had Arya showed her the stupid letter too. She’d probably read it and go, “Oh. Duress. That’s a thing.”
Now, during the season Kylie thought maybe Sansa was somehow trying to protect Brienne, though she never came up with a reason as to how sending her away actually accomplished this. Littlefinger mentioning anyone’s name is a threat?
Well, thank the gods D&D are here to tell us what they intended, but didn’t manage to properly convey! See, Brienne is a “pretty legendary swordswoman” now, and the duel was supposed to show us that Arya beat her, or had that potential to beat her. Therefore, Brienne interceding could mean her life, so naturally Sansa wanted to send her away. That’s very noble, we suppose; why let Arya cut down both herself and Brienne? Because this was absolutely a foregone conclusion based on one sparring session.
“Sansa’s watching and isn’t quite sure if Brienne is holding back. Arya is really good at killing people. That’s a bit worrisome.” —David Benioff
We know the real reason why it happened of course; D&D wanted Brienne to be at the stupid Wight Moot so that she could chum it up with Sandor and then say the “fuck loyalty” line to Jaime (good gods). They wanted Pod there too so that Bronn could make another dick joke. We almost feel lazy writing everything off with a Doylist rationalization, but as always, the Watsonian lens falls apart under even the smallest scrutiny.
What’s worse is that it also only served to demonize Sansa for no reason.
Granted, to call Sansa’s snapping “snotty” already reveals a lens on the part of this gif-maker. But even we, who have been committed Sansa fangirls this season, were taken back by the harshness in tone. Even if this was out of a protectiveness, sort of like when Arya threw rocks at Nymeria to scare her off, Brienne is…you know, a human. She can understand words, and surely would have followed orders at the end of the day, regardless of tone.
In and of herself, Brienne had nothing to do this season. She had no arc, and the moments in which she was used were all pretty unnecessary, now that we think about it. But we just resent the stupid way in which she was employed, especially when our biggest complaint about this plotline was the lack of positive female interaction. It was truly nice to see Sansa and Brienne talk frankly about Littlefinger, even if it didn’t affect anything. So of course that had to get blown up.
Off-Screen, Off the Rails!
And with that, we finally need to talk about what’s laughably considered the plot.
As we already said, the main conflict revolved around Littlefinger isolating Sansa. OR DID IT? Because Arya had beef with her sister the second she got there. Before Sansa even hugged her, Arya’s first remark upon meeting her again after years and years (we think) was, “Do I have to call you ‘Lady Stark’ now?” She was PO’d at Sansa’s rank, and at Jon choosing her to watch The North in his stead, and by the very next episode, she was watching her sister’s interactions with a resting poo-face and explicitly suspicious of her decisions.
“They were insulting Jon, and you sat there and listened.” —Arya to Sansa in “Eastwatch”
Then, Arya decided to tail Littlefinger, and not the other way around. Now granted, he has ESPN or something, so he knew that Arya was going to tail him, and that she was feeling resentful about Sansa (before Sansa said a single word to him), and that if he unearthed the one letter that Sansa had written under duress, Arya would be completely convinced her sister was an asshole.
Don’t get us wrong: we can completely respect the idea of Littlefinger just wanting to create conflict between people without knowing how that would help him. Afterall, he’s creepily into Sansa—as he’s openly told her and Jon, and probably anyone else who will listen—so the idea that he’s trying to emotionally isolate her makes a lot of sense to us. It’s just…this is so many moves ahead of what’s reasonable. He sees one poo-face and assumes it’s because Arya questions Sansa’s loyalty to her family?
(Now that we think about it, we don’t even recall seeing him on Wall Spot in that scene.)
Now, to say something nice for once: Littlefinger did end up getting hoisted by his own petard. D&D have not done this successfully despite pretending they did so in the case of Cersei in Season 5, and Ramsay in Season 6, so we’re impressed it actually happened. Littlefinger totally overplayed his hand. His stupid motive game was basically like, “you should KILL your sister,” which is going to make anyone balk and second guess everything.
The issue we’re having is that this hoisting happened entirely off-screen. We don’t know when or why Sansa came to the conclusion that she needed to unearth dirt about Littlefinger. We don’t know the context of her talking to Bran. We don’t know what it took to convince Arya to get on-board with this, we don’t know what them making up with one another looked like, and we don’t know if they also then took five hours to watch Stark Home Movies together while eating popcorn.
We don’t know anything, because D&D were hellbent on preserving the shock of Littlefinger dying. They liked this idea so much that we even had a scene of Sansa telling a guard to bring Arya to the Great Hall.
Much like with Faullaria back in Season 5, this wasn’t so much a shock as it was a complete 180 bait-and-switch. The most generous we can be is that Sansa needed to surprise everyone with this, including the Northern Lords and guards, so that Littlefinger didn’t have a chance to slip away or plan a defense or something. But we know that’s about as paper-thin as Jon and Daenerys’s romance.
D&D wanted to shock us, the audience. As Sarah Mesle wrote, we were in a position to empathize with Littlefinger, of all people. They not only wanted to shock us, but they prioritized the shock over logic. So we have to ask: is a shock an end in itself?
Our answer is pretty clearly “no.” We’re of the loserly opinion that your plot should be able to stand up to basic scrutiny, and that character arcs should, you know…exist. Or at least culminate on-screen. The main conflict in this season was supposed to be between Sansa and Arya, or Sansa and her loyalty to her family (as dumb as both those options were). And we don’t actually see that being resolved; we just see the consequence of the resolution, which is a trial reliant on spectral evidence.
This is a problem, right? Are we crazy? There’s no climax!
What’s even worse is that the stupid letter upon which Sansa’s biggest fears were based is not even close to being a smoking gun. Cat didn’t even have to READ IT to know that it was from Cersei, because Sansa was a goddamned prisoner. She was a very literal hostage. We don’t know what the fuck D&D were going for by having Arya imply she wasn’t “forced” to write this letter, and that Lyanna Mormont wouldn’t have done this, and we’re still mildly confused as to whether we even were supposed to think she had a point. It’s so blatantly dumb that our brains reject this possibility. Except the resolution is Sansa “proving her loyalty” by killing Littlefinger, and D&D do seem to think this letter suggests… ~something~ about Sansa’s character.
“Arya has this piece of very incriminating evidence against Sansa.” —Dan Weiss
NO SHE DOESN’T! You have to be really committed to wanting to blame Sansa, or wanting to blame eleven-year-old girls who aren’t “kind of always there” in terms of badass fighting skills or whatever it is they think Arya always possessed, to come away with that impression. For all their Season 1 callbacks this year, could they have at least watched how this letter had been drafted and received?
Sansa had nothing to prove. Yet D&D thought she did, so we got a plotline where after everything she’s already been through, she has to get physically threatened by Arya and that spurs her to act. Meanwhile, nothing about Arya this season changes; her beliefs don’t change in any tangible way. She just gets evidence that Littlefinger holds more blame for Ned’s death than anyone. So it was his fault!
What’s strange is that Littlefinger holding a dagger to Ned’s throat, or killing Jon Arryn, doesn’t erase Sansa writing the letter. It just means that Arya cares about that less? But why would that be the case at all? Full disclosure, we’re trying to get to a point here and can’t, because Julia’s brain is breaking in front of us. We can’t keep going in circles with this damn show anymore like we’ve done for two seasons.
The old us would have been happy to draw a flowchart to illustrate exactly how this doesn’t make sense, but after seven years, we’re over the novelty. This is just the same shit again; it makes no sense, and D&D don’t seem to care that it makes no sense. They don’t expect anyone to look at this show past the level of seal-clapping for the shocks, and frankly their director’s attitude about raven flying speeds is as indicative as anything:
“It’s cool that the show is so important to so many people that it’s being scrutinized so thoroughly. If the show was struggling, I’d be worried about those concerns, but the show seems to be doing pretty well so it’s OK to have people with those concerns.” —Alan Taylor
Like always, this wouldn’t even bother us if there weren’t people who were determined to act as though this show has…substance. Like, any substance. Or even characters. It is just the most empty shell of entertainment possible, to the point where we feel like failures for not being able to say more about this.
In summation: we tried, we really tried. We liked Sansa, but then realized the plot didn’t want us to, or at least not to the extent we did. Then the “shocking death” (via poetic dagger) happened and Julie’s faith in humanity shattered. We declare a mistrial. We denounce these proceedings and quit this court.
That said, we will see you soon enough with our next retrospective, which will feature the greatest romance since Padme and Anakin.