WARNING: Contains some pretty major spoilers.
A day ago when I asked for something to write Arya meta about I received a flawless anon suggesting this one and I have quite literally been thinking about it ever since. I’ve examined Sansa/Arya parallels before, but now we’re adding a third layer to the mix: their lady mother.
Let’s begin with the parallels between Sansa and living, breathing, lady-love-of-my-heart Cat. I’ve said before and I will continue to say that, contrary to popular belief, Arya is almost as if not equally like Cat as Sansa is. However, for the purpose of this meta, I’m going to focus more on the actual story progressions of the Stark ladies, rather than the personality traits that all three ladies have in common.
There have always been similarities between Cat and Sansa, both in the minds of characters and of the fandom. They look very much alike, they’re both “proper ladies”, they both move away from home to be married, etc. In the minds of Littlefinger and Lysa, it’s even to the point where mother and daughter are basically the same person.
Beyond the most basic similarities, however, one can examine the character arcs of Cat and Sansa following the execution of Ned. Both of them experience a monumental, entirely life-changing loss beyond simply losing a loved one. Cat describes Ned as the “rock her life was built on”, and indeed, for most of her life he has been her constant. Even before his death, his imprisonment changed everything. Her son undertook the massive responsibility of freeing Ned through warfare, which, although it arguably did not make Robb a “man”, certainly aged him. Cat’s life is turned upside-down with her husband’s execution; the prospect of simply returning home with all of her children intact suddenly becomes a distant hope rather than a realistic possibility. She is suddenly transient, nearly constantly traveling with Robb. Everything that was a part of her day-to-day-life is snatched away from her by the war. In Sansa’s case, her father’s execution by Joffrey, who was supposed to be her golden prince, ends her childhood and strips away her naiveté. She no longer has the life she lived in Winterfell or the life she dreamed for herself; she is a prisoner, a victim of constant abuse, and is unable to trust anyone but herself.
These earth-shattering changes in the lives of Sansa and Cat slowly turn them both harder and colder. Cat says that her heart is “turning to stone” and Sansa’s thought process after Joffrey’s wedding is reminiscent of that sentiment, with the “porcelain, ivory, steel” idea. Both women are incapable of giving into whatever grief they experience, for if they do they know they will be crushed by it. Both of them have their parts to play: Cat must appear unendingly strong, and Sansa must be whatever she needs to be to stay alive. Both of their stories reach a type of end point with a sort of death: Cat, of course, is kind-of-killed at the Red Wedding, and when Sansa leaves and becomes Alayne Stone, she constantly reminds herself that Sansa Stark, the child, the heir to Winterfell- is dead. (At least for now.)
Now on to Cat and Arya. Arya, like Cat, is mostly transient following AGoT. Both of them are motivated by the desire to reunite with their family; Cat constantly begs Robb to stop the war, sends Jaime after her daughters, etc. Arya, of course, is constantly working towards reaching Riverrun, and later the Twins, in order to be with her mother and brother again. Their paths violently converge at the Red Wedding, at which point their stories begin running an even more parallel course.
Right after the chapters in which the Red Wedding is actually occurring, a lot of people believed both Arya and Cat to be dead. This made sense, of course, considering Cat had her throat slit (ugh) and for a moment it seemed as if Sandor Clegane split Arya’s head open with an axe. Before the end of the book, however, we find out that they are both alive in the traditional sense- hearts still beating, brains still functioning. Nevertheless, both of them have suffered a death of sorts. Obviously Lady Stoneheart is not the Catelyn Tully Stark that we knew, and following the RW Arya decides to complete shed her former identity and set off to create a new life elsewhere. Arya Stark of Winterfell is, in a sense, dead- the same way that Sansa Stark is dead. Furthermore, both Cat and Arya experience an interim period between their “death” and their “rebirth”. Cat is legitimately dead for days before Beric Dondarrion revives her. Arya is unconscious for a long time and continues to wander before the point at which I think she truly becomes her new self- when she shows Jaqen’s iron coin to the ship captain and says valar morghulis.
Following their respective rebirths, both Cat (now Stoneheart) and Arya have become ruthless. They still retain a sense of justice from their old lives and they still carry the memory of their family with them. Stoneheart kills anyone associated with the people who destroyed her family, and Arya still kills people who break the laws she was raised by (see: Dareon, whom she killed partly due to his desertion of the Watch.) Neither of them kill out of a specific grudge against their victims, but rather due to some higher calling. Stoneheart’s mission is to kill all Freys, Lannisters, and Ironmen, regardless of their age or innocence in the murder (or in the case of Bran and Rickon, purported murder) of her children. Arya kills on orders from the Faceless Men, without any personal interest or bias. Finally, both Arya and her mother are now part of some greater guild, both with members who are connected to an earlier time in their lives. Cat leads the Brotherhood without Banners, to which Harwin, a former Winterfell guardsmen, belongs. Arya begins training in the House of Black and White, a league of which Jaqen, who had helped her previously, was a member.
My hopes for the endings of all of these women are a convergence between all four sides: Cat, Uncat, Sansa, and Arya. My hope is that Sansa and Arya will eventually regain their identities, and I desperately hope Stoneheart- though she is in many respects a zombie- will regain some of her humanity and live long enough to see at least one of her children again. If all three do so, then once again we will have Catelyn Stark, and then Sansa Stark and Arya Stark- who, as always, are two sides of the strong, wonderful coin that is their mother.