Let me first say this:
- Arya Stark is a traumatized preteen on the run for her life who has faced threats of sexual abuse and is being trained as an assassin.
- Sansa Stark is a traumatized teenage girl at the mercy of a malicious, overgrown, pedophiliac man child who’s basically responsible for the War of the Five Kings.
They are both suffering more than anybody, let alone two orphaned little girls, ever should and the struggles they go through after their father’s death cannot be minimized in any way.
But that being said, I want to discuss their portrayal more under the cut.
I definitely think that the narrative favors Arya more than it does Sansa in AGOT which sets up their arcs in the series. Prior to Arya being understandably traumatized by her status as a child on the run during a war, she was given nothing to really regret doing, or nothing the reader could blame her for. She was insecure yes, and faced massive issues with the rigid gender roles of Westerosi society, but those are societal issues to be corrected, not character flaws in Arya. In fact, I think Arya’s story is more about how much the world is unfair, more than about how Arya as a character responds to the world being unfair and has to account for her own character flaws.
Sansa at the beginning, is naive, admittedly shallow, spends a lot of time in her own head telling stories about handsome princes and jousts, enjoys “princessy” classically feminine activities like sewing, and has a tendency to trust absolutely terrible people, which is why she runs to Cersei when she learns Ned plans to take them away. Arya on the other hand, is capable of seeing through the facade Joffrey and Cersei put on, she is extroverted and enjoys spending time with everybody from small folk to her bastard brother, and she’s a tomboy; she likes classically “male” activities like sword fighting and doesn’t mind getting dirty and roughing it, even if she distinctly identifies as female.
I’m not saying that GRRM is being intentionally sexist with his portrayal of Arya and Sansa, but the fact that the “feminine” character is given (very understandable) character flaws that need to be shed in order for her to survive and thrive and the more “tomboyish” character is perfect the way she is but the world is shit for not accepting her uniqueness is just a bit… discomforting to me. This all is probably because of my own character biases and the fact I have a very hard time relating to Arya because of major personality differences but the fact is that she makes no real mistakes in the narrative; threatening Joffrey doesn’t count because Joffrey is an awful person and Cersei is very clearly responsible for Lady’s death and Sandor/Cersei for Micah’s and even if Arya blames herself, there’s no way the reader is ever going to as they do Sansa.
So I almost understand why Sansa was so much more hated than Arya outside of Tumblr for the longest time. I don’t think they were handled with an even hand, and to be honest, the same goes for a lot of other “two sides of the coin” in the novels, characters who go through similar arcs or hold similar roles in the series. If we take Ned/Catelyn, Jaime/Cersei, Cersei/Tyrion, Jon/Dany, in all four of those pairs, there is one character that faces much more criticism and in all four cases, it’s the woman. For instance, Cersei and Tyrion are two sides of the sexism/ableism intersectionality debate but we don’t get Cersei’s perspective until her son’s been murdered in front of her and father’s been murdered by her brother. Tyrion murders a sex worker and his father in ASOS so what if we didn’t get his perspective until ADWD? Would he be as likable? I doubt it.
But anyway, I think this is more an issue with the author instead of the character themselves. It’s sort of a very nit picky thing but it’s been bothering me for a while so have at it.
#this is me calling out the author #i don’t mean this as hate towards arya because i do legitimately like arya #her narrative seems to me to be more about her responding to the world than the world responding to her if that makes sense #her arc is fascinating and heartbreaking the way it unfolds for this little girl #but it’s not as much about arya as a person if that makes sense #I hadn’t seen a Sansa in fantasy literature as a heroine before I have encountered many many Aryas which is why I attached to Sansa so quickly #and the same goes for Cersei and Dany because like how many teenage girls are the messiah? and have to actually deal with it fully #and Cersei is heartbreaking for what she becomes and I don’t know if I’m supposed to sympathize with her but I can’t help it
I don’t deny that’s a good point, and I do think Arya was written to be immediately more sympathetic than Sansa. But I also think that was a conscious narrative choice, that I personally liked.
Arya is a sympathetic character in AGOT, and easier to relate to than Sansa. But the plot drives Arya into becomind hardened, and although she keeps her basic personality intact (loyal, brave, generally moral and kind), it becomes a lot harder to relate to her as she turns into a murderer and trains to become an assassin. It’s interesting to follow her plot, and you still sympathize with her and feel for her, but it’s harder to relate to a child soldier than it is to a carefree girl.
Sansa, on the other hand, becomes more relatable than she was. She becomes kinder and more self-aware. She sees the world as it is, finally, and it’s when she suffers that she starts to think about some of our other favorite characters with kindness (Arya, Jon, etc). She’s always been kind, but it’s as she suffers that we see it more clearly. And I truly believe that was a narrative choice, to make Arya harder to relate to and Sansa easier to relate to. To switch their parts that way, so to speak.
I’m not explaining everything away though, because I think GRRM isn’t perfect in his choices of writing typically feminine characters, but I genuinely think it’s interesting the way he chose to develop Sansa and Arya.
#yeah I think there’s also something that goes on in asoiaf worth mentioning regarding ‘favorability’ #which is that favorability tends to align with traditional fantasy tropes #but martin wants to get to the human underneath the trope #or the favorability #and see the darkness and light in all his pov characters #which means #in my opinion #that this original favorability is not an extremely helpful lens through which we judge the characters #I don’t think he necessarily wants us to favor or relate to most of the characters #but to love them and see them as fully expressed human beings #and while I don’t want to object to that sort of interpretation #if martin’s not writing for the sake of favorability #or if readers don’t read for that lens either #it becomes a weird sort of criticism #like #the human heart in conflict with itself doesn’t necessarily make for likable characters #and fandom’s reaction to characters isn’t really indicative of a good or healthy relationship to the text
"I should wear the armor, and you the gown." -Cersei Lannister
"Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty.” -William Shakespeare (Lady Macbeth), Macbeth
"You were made to be kissed, often and well." -Jorah Mormont
“You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” -Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
“As I cannot be the hero, let me be the monster, and lesson them in fear in place of love.” -Bobono
"And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, And hate the idle pleasures of these days." — William Shakespeare, Richard III (via)
"Words are wind," -Common Saying (but also once said by Tyrion)
"Words are easy, like the wind," William Shakespeare, The Passionate Pilgrim
"Fire and Blood" - the words of House Targaryen
"In this part of the story I am the one who /Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,/Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.” -Pablo Neruda, I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You
"Men are such thundering great fools." -Genna Lannister
"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" -William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“Power resides where men believe it resides… It’s a trick… A shadow on the wall…” -Tyrion Lannister
Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ discusses how a ‘shadow on the wall’ can be a person’s reality if that is all they know. “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images…”
“You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children. Now say her name.” -Oberyn Martell
“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” -Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
“The ranger saved Sam and the girl from the wights,” -Bran Stark
No exact quote here, but in JRR Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, Tom Bombadil saves the hobbits from barrow-wights.
“Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Eowyn!” -JRR Tolkien, Return of the King
"I do not have a gentle heart." -Daenerys Targaryen
If you have any more, feel free to add!
"And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, And hate the idle pleasures of these days." — William Shakespeare, Richard III, I, i (via dotofink)
Sorry, the first part of your message didn’t come through, but your appreciation is appreciated. :)
Re Lyanna and Rhaegar: I don’t know how they felt. I don’t think it’s obvious that she loved him, we have no evidence of that whatsoever except that she had rose petals in her hand when she died. (Don’t look at romanticized fanfic or fanart, look at the text, it’s the only thing that really counts.)
It’s possible that Rhaegar loved Lyanna (many characters seem to think he did); it’s also possible he just wanted her (body, soul, spirit) to help fulfill the prophecy and those characters just thought it was love because they didn’t know his true motivations or anything about the PTWP prophecy. (Why would someone spark a civil war, if not for heedless love?) It’s possible that Lyanna loved Rhaegar; it’s also possible that she just wanted to escape her marriage to Robert and ended up in a situation entirely out of her control, with a person whose plans for her were something she didn’t know and the results of which were incredibly tragic. (Actually, the results were incredibly tragic no matter who loved whom, which is probably GRRM’s point.) I personally tend to lean towards the latter possibilities — and please see my Lyanna and Rhaegar and R+L=J tags, I’ve discussed this frequently.
Regarding Elia… again, I don’t know, and there’s no evidence for or against. I have occasionally speculated that Elia might have been convinced of the rightness of the prophecy, and perhaps understood that another woman would be needed to fulfill it. It’s even possible that she was somewhat willing to deal with the potential political effect on her status. (Somewhat, but possible; queens of Westeros and noble ladies have dealt with their husband’s mistresses/paramours before, and the Dornish tend to be flexible on these matters.)
I also think that Rhaegar’s actions at the Tourney at Harrenhal shamed Elia publicly and angered Dorne (and the North, and the Stormlands), and she was probably incredibly angry at him about it. Though note this would have been before Aegon was born, so if they did fight, and if Dany’s HOTU vision of them was true, then they must have reconciled at that point. But again, once Rhaegar disappeared with Lyanna and this sparked a war, Elia must have been upset because of yet more public shaming, the war, the danger to herself and her children, and the fact that Aerys used her and her children as hostages to control Dorne. So whether or not Elia believed in the prophecy and wouldn’t have minded a sister-wife or Rhaegar having a mistress, I think how Rhaegar went about getting the third head of the dragon was a cause of great frustration and anger to her. (I mean, even before her horrible death and that of her children.) Rhaegar certainly frustrates me.
I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s really important to mention that there are two Rhaegars. There is the great, noble Rhaegar who is lionized by his supporters and whose relationship with Lyanna is seen as an act of passion:
- "Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna and thousands died for it." -Barristan Selmy
- "A warrior without peer." -Barristan Selmy
- "Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died." -Jorah Mormont
- "If he loved you, he would come and carry you off at swordpoint, as Rhaegar carried off his northern girl." -Daenerys Targaryen
- Her brother Rhaegar battling the Usurper in the bloody waters of the Trident and dying for the woman he loved. -Daenerys Targaryen
- Her brother Rhaegar had died for the woman he loved. -Daenerys Targaryen
- Next to Rhaegar, even her beautiful Jaime had seemed no more than a callow boy. -Cersei Lannister
- If she had only married Rhaegar as the gods intended, he would never have looked twice at the wolf girl. Rhaegar would be our king today and I would be his queen, the mother of his sons. She had never forgiven Robert for killing him. -Cersei Lannister
- Cersei could have given the prince the sons he wanted, lions with purple eyes and silver manes … and with such a wife, Rhaegar might never have looked twice at Lyanna Stark. -Kevan Lannister
- Basically everything Jon Con says regarding Rhaegar, esp the mushy pseudo-romantic stuff
Then there’s the raping monster Rhaegar, who is vilified mainly by Robert:
- "In my dreams, I kill him every night. A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves." -Robert Baratheon
- "And Rhaegar … how many times do you think he raped your sister? How many hundreds of times?” -Robert Baratheon
- "The Others take your honor! What did any Targaryen know of honor? Go down into your crypt and ask Lyanna about the dragon’s honor!” -Robert Baratheon
And yet, both sides must be taken with a grain of salt. You can’t make any decisive statements regarding nature’s greatness or the nature of his relationship with Lyanna. Some, such as Kevan, think it was just a matter of Lyanna looking pretty enough to kidnap. Others vouch that it’s true love. Nearly everyone quoted in that first list are full-on Targ supporters or madly in love with Rhaegar. The chances of hearing anything less than wonderful things about the tragic crown prince is unlikely. Yet, considering the face that Lyanna was a “child-woman” of 15 when she was kidnapped, and Rhaegar had been 23, it adds a whole new level of creepy.
Everyone who had lionized/vilified Rhaegar in some way, shape, or form, in the books had never entered the Tower of Joy. They were not there to witness Lyanna’s kidnapping, nor were they there to hear her final words (Ned and presumably Howland did, but Ned neither hates or loves Rhaegar), and thus these opinions are just that: opinions. Targ supporters will say it was true love; those who hate them will label him a rapist.
GRRM has likely done this all on purpose. He’s playing a little mind game by making people pick a side (love or rape), thus immersing you further into the story. Until someone can provide eye-witness testaments to whatever occurred between Lyanna and Rhaegar, you cannot say if either party loved the other.
You can, however, assume that Lyanna had not gone against her will through the hints dropped in Ned’s POV chapters. He is one of two people who was at her deathbed, and thus far in the books, he’s the only one of the pair to have made an appearance (and subsequent… disappearance, if you will). But even then, it’s just an assumption.
I personally subscribe to the idea that Lyanna had loved Rhaegar for giving her a way out of marriage to Robert. I think she loved him very briefly, as most teenagers are wont to do, until he locked her up in a tower, impregnated her, and did nothing to stop the death of her brother and father. As for Rhaegar, his loving her is something even I haven’t decided on yet, b/c tbh I wouldn’t call love having someone to carry your child while her family is dead/dying.
But honestly, no matter what side you take, Lyanna/Rhaegar is inherently fucked up. Sorry, there’s no way to ignore that a married, 23 year old adult prince (with children!) took a fifteen year old girl and knocked her up. ‘Love’ hardly excuses that.
A Song of Ice and Fire is not about kings. It’s about the people who surround, support and get stomped on by kings in quests for thrones and power. In older fantasy stories, the young kings are the heroes and lead characters, so George R.R. Martin subverted that by presenting his story through the perspective of everyone but the kings. The tale is now told by the rulers’ friends, mothers, children, wives, and the other people who usually become fringe characters. The only ruler with a point-of-view chapter is Daenerys, and she is not a Westerosi king.
Robert, Joffrey, Renly, Robb, Stannis, Balon- they don’t get to tell the story. They aren’t the heroes of the story. There may not be any, but if there are, it’s not them.