Editor’s Note: This story may contain spoilers about the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
“Game of Thrones” was unsympathetically cruel to the Stark sisters.
Sansa was raped and ridiculed by her psychopathic husband, Ramsay, on their wedding night. Arya became a trained assassin with a kill list. They both witnessed the beheading of their father, Ned Stark.
While the duo has been seen together only three out of the eight seasons, their relationship tests assumptions about sisterly bonds and how they can last even through the most traumatic times in our lives.
And at this point, the Stark sisters can depend on only themselves.
“Everyone’s a threat,” Williams told TVLine. “We’re done trusting people. We’re done with being pushed over. We finally managed to scrape our family back together somewhat, minus Jon.”
Here’s a look back at key moments of Arya and Sansa’s sisterhood that led them to become one of the show’s most powerful alliances.
Laying the groundwork for sisters at odds
Right from the start of “Game of Thrones,” Sansa and Arya are in competition with each other.
Arya looks on with defeat in her eyes as Sansa is praised for her needlework.
“Fine work as always. Well done,” Septa Mordane tells Sansa. “I love the detail that you’ve managed to get in these corners.”
Arya, on the other hand, struggles to excel at this.
Being the youngest daughter, Arya knows she won’t be the next Lady of Winterfell, which is why she challenges her family’s expectation for her to do “ladylike” tasks.
This leaves Arya to create her own destiny and embrace her tomboy personality.
When a man comes between the Stark girls
Arya stands on trial in front of King Robert Baratheon, while she refutes his son Joffrey’s story that she and her direwolf, Nymeria, attacked him earlier that day near the river.
Sansa, who was there, is woken from her sleep to join them and tell the truth.
“It’s a great crime to lie to a king,” he says.
But that’s what she does. Sansa is madly in love with Joffrey, the heir to the Iron Throne to whom she is betrothed. She lies and says she doesn’t remember what happened.
Arya, in the spirit of a young child, calls her out and begins to pull at Sansa’s hair.
The king lets Arya go, but Cersei wants the direwolf punished. Since Nymeria is no where to be found, Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, must be executed instead.
The sisters break out in tears and are outraged at this command. It’s the first time we see them agree with one another, but unfortunately they’re too late, and Lady is sentenced to death.
A long overdue reunion
When Arya returns her home six seasons later, Sansa is now Lady of Winterfell.
“Do I have to call you Lady Stark now?” Arya asks after Sansa finds her in the Hall of Dead Stark Statues.
“Yes,” she replies, knowing Arya will understand it as a joke.
Neither of them have had an easy journey to get to where they are now. They’re happy to be together, but Sansa soon realizes that Arya is no longer the little girl she once knew.
When Sansa watches Arya practice sparring against Brienne of Tarth, the strong warrior who pledged to protect the Stark children, she is impressed but frightened.
It’s the first time she witnesses Arya’s sword fighting skills since the Joffrey altercation. Before, Arya couldn’t fend off Joffrey without the help of Nymeria.
This time is different, though. Not only is Arya able to defend herself, but she defeats Brienne, someone Sansa saw as her great defender.
The plot against the enemy at home
The takedown of Littlefinger shows there’s no one way to be a strong woman.
Littlefinger, aka Lord Baelish, tries to pit Arya and Sansa against one another, but the sisters trick him and put him on trial. Sansa finds him guilty of a number of crimes, leaving Arya to cut his throat.
It’s the perfect moment for both of the Stark women to show their strengths. Sansa is unfazed in a room filled with men wondering what she’ll do next. Sansa, exuding the confidence of a knight, carries out the execution.
“You’re the strongest person I know,” Sansa later tells Arya.
But Arya reassures her that admiration goes both ways.
“I never could’ve survived what you survived,” she admits to her big sister.
Arya and Sansa remember what their father used to say: “The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
Proof that this alliance won’t be broken
No matter how much Jon has done for the North, Arya refuses to allow him to talk negatively about Sansa.
Before the Starks were separated, Jon Snow and Arya were the closest of the children.
He tells Arya he could have used her help earlier with Sansa’s cold welcome to his love, Daenerys Targaryen.
“Sansa thinks she’s smarter than everyone,” Jon says.
Arya looks at him offended.
“She’s the smartest person I ever met,” she says about her sister.
It’s not a goodbye but a sign of trust
As everyone at Winterfell looks out into the distance at the battle against the White Walkers, Arya knows her sister can’t stay with her.
“Get down to the crypt,” she tells Sansa.
Sansa pushes back, saying she won’t abandon her people. But Arya proceeds to hand her a dagger to take with her.
“I don’t know how to use it,” Sansa admits to her little sister.
“Stick ‘em with the pointy end,” Arya replies just before Sansa turns to leave.
While Arya is firm with Sansa, the decision to send the Lady to the crypt is mutual. Sansa knows her sister is right. She can’t fight and therefore is better off in the crypt.
Despite knowing many people will die, Arya and Sansa don’t say goodbye. The Stark sisters know they’re smart enough to stay alive.
It’s a sign of trust, a refreshing moment rarely seen in the midst of chaos.