July 12, 2016

A Reversal of Fortune and the Price of Revenge: Sansa, Arya and Cersei in “Game of Thrones,” Season Six

Posted in Pop Culture at 12:44 am by chavalah

The reunion that was promised.  (Kit Harington as Jon Snow and Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark)

The reunion that was promised. (Kit Harington as Jon Snow and Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark)

A brief disclaimer: all three of these storylines have moved beyond (and have been altered) from the published books. So I’ll be focusing on the show characters, and not their canon counterparts. I’m limiting my book feels to Bran, and the stunning Hodor revelation from mid-season. WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN TO YOUR FATHER, BRANDON?! *ahem* 😛 Moving on.

When last we left these three ladies, they were in precarious positions. Cersei was confined to the Red Keep after enduring a venomous walk of shame. Sansa jumped from the Winterfell ramparts into uncertain safety in order to escape her abusive husband. Arya ended up blind after using a face while she was still “someone.”

This year, Cersei succeeded in burning all (or most) of her enemies. Sansa reunited with her brother, Jon, ensured his victory in the Battle of the Bastards, and killed her abuser, Ramsay Bolton. Arya regained her sight, snagged a new face, and returned to Westeros to cross Walder Frey’s name off of her list.

Revenge reigned supreme among these ladies, and they each greeted it with a smile. It’s a major red flag; violence always comes with a cost. But I’m wary to lump the Stark girls too closely with Cersei. Revenge, like people, can come in different shades. Sansa and Arya have embraced acts of cruelty, but they still live by a code. Does the Queen Mother—now Queen of Westeros?

***

Cersei never regains any of the friends whom she has lost over the past several seasons. Besides for Frankenstein, his monster, and her fiercely loyal brother, Jaime, the Queen stands alone. Even Tommen, who briefly wanted to be “strong” for her, quickly falls under the influence of his wife, Margaery Tyrell, and the High Sparrow.

Cersei opts for revenge instead of facing a likely fatal trial. But in snuffing out her relatively small group of enemies, she doesn’t bat an eye at including thousands of bystanders as collateral damage. “Burn them all,” says Mad Queen Cersei.

And does it end well for her? I wouldn’t think so. As she’s off torturing Septa Unella, her son Tommen, the one person whom she sought to protect, throws himself out of a window rather than accept the world that she created for him. “To House Lannister!” the soon-to-be-deceased Walder Frey declares over his descending body. That’s a sure sign, if any, that House Lannister is on its death knells. All that remain now are three siblings who may soon be at each others’ throats. Cersei’s power shot as Queen of Westeros is meant to convey a dynasty to last the ages. But with all three of her children now dead and the prophecy fulfilled; and with several great Houses aligning with Daenerys against her, I think she’s just ruling over a pile of ash.

On the bright side, ”Light of the Seven” may be the least Game of Thrones music that Ramin Djawadi ever composed, but it quickly rose up to the top of my faves. 😛 Very haunting.

***

Seriously, I'd rather the Walkers win than the love between these two characters die. :/

Seriously, I’d rather the Walkers win than the love between these two characters die. :/

Sansa Stark has been pulled in two directions all season. She starts by swearing an oath to Brienne, which basically positions her as the Lady of her House for the first time in her life. Then she reunites with Jon in a scene I reacted so loudly to that I’m sort of surprised that I didn’t get angry knocks on my door. 😛 And she insists, citing her father’s words, that the northern houses will be loyal and fight for Jon. But the northern houses (most of them, anyway) betray her instead by not doing the honorable thing.

On the other hand, there is an un-Stark shrewdness to her, brought on by years of abuse. Her confrontation with Littlefinger not only confirms that last year’s controversy had a larger point than just shock value; it’s also, likely, one of the most brutally honest descriptions of rape that has ever come on TV. Sansa is now hardened and distrusting. She loves her brother, Jon, but he lacks her political acumen so she keeps things from him. She saves the Stark army during the Battle of the Bastards but she gets little recognition for it, leading to jealousy. True, Littlefinger has his own designs, but I’m not quite sure he’s manipulating her. She has her own justifiably conflicted feelings about what’s going down in the north.

It’s been a bittersweet season for my favorite House. Two of the Stark siblings are reunited, but they aren’t exactly living happily ever after. Rickon, the youngest Stark sibling is dead—a cold reality that Sansa could accept far more readily than Jon. And in killing Ramsay, the Lady of Winterfell takes a little bit of her abuser’s sadism into herself. “I’m part of you,” he sneers, which seems like a harrowing send off before she feeds him to his dogs, just as he’s done to his victims all season. She’s not a serial killer; she’s not ready to “burn them all,” surely, but she’s not the “little dove” from season one, either. For a person who now believes that “no one can protect anyone,” what might she justify for her survival?

***

I admit, I’m not the biggest fan of Arya’s storyline. The House of Black and White serves no higher purpose on the show than to get the girl from point A to point B, and it even disregards its own rules to do so. Jaqen and the waif maintain their personal desires, even though they are both supposed to be “no one.” The poisoned water restores Arya’s eyesight even though she’s still “someone.” She suffers few consequences for her choices—she’s able to fight and kill the waif, even with a gaping stomach wound; she even uses a face to kill Walder Frey, no problem, when the same rules applied last year made her blind. I just found it all very shallow and disappointing.

But Arya’s journey away from the Faceless Men bears more fruit. I loved the play within a play—it was a clever way for Game of Thrones to parody itself, while also giving insight into how the Braavosi people view the drama of our main cast. But my favorite part of the entire tableau was how Arya realizes that she has empathy for Cersei, now number one on her list. She explains to Lady Crane that the death of the Queen’s family would lead her to be angry and vengeful—hmm, sounds familiar. 😛 I also like that Arya, after struggling with the implications, doesn’t kill Lady Crane, a woman who’s done her no harm. It shows that she still has a conscience, and she won’t just “burn them all.”

But be all of this as it may, Arya is still a ruthless assassin. Her wide-eyed, grinning reaction to killing Walder Frey doesn’t bode well for her spirit. She may not be psychotic, but something—revenge—has gotten hold of her. Though her list grows ever shorter, her methods grow all the more unhinged. Can a girl who bakes her enemy’s sons into pies deviate from this gnarly path? Will she ever be able to go home, or has “home” disappeared into a cycle of violence?

***

George R. R. Martin has stated his interest in stories where “the heart is in conflict with itself,” to paraphrase Faulkner. This is what we have to look forward to next year—for the Stark girls and indeed for most of the characters. It’s going to be an emotional ride.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] course, my most popular entry from 2016 was A Reversal of Fortune: Sansa, Arya and Cersei in Game of Thrones Season Six. It pays to be writing about a popular tv show.😛 But in fact, Game of Thrones is also my favorite […]


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