“You can’t be the Lord of Winterfell, you’re bastard-born", he heard Robb say again. And the stone kings were growling at him with granite tongues. “You do not belong here. This is not your place”. When Jon closed his eyes he saw the heart tree, with its pale limbs, red leaves, and solemn face. The weirwood was the heart of Winterfell, Lord Eddard always said… but to save the castle Jon would have to tear that heart up by its ancient roots, and feed it to the red woman’s hungry fire god. I have no right, he thought. Winterfell belongs to the old gods”.

in search of homes: jon and arya

Are you trying to say something to the reader by drilling into us how much Arya and Jon love each other?
“Say something to the reader?” No, I’m just reporting how the characters feel. <g> Of course, everything in the book says something to the reader.

According to GRRM, everything in the books says something to the reader. Yet, the content of novels are ultimately a series of choices by the authors. By reporting what characters feel, readers are given a better understanding of characters. This information gives the readers the knowledge of what characters desire, fear, love, and hate. In essence, these feelings make a character. What influences their decisions? What do their thoughts and decisions say about them as individuals and how they develop? Those are based on the feelings shown in text. And since character feelings are produced by having them react to setting, conflict, and other characters, one can argue that character relationships developed within the text are vital to understanding the nature and growth of characters.

So, what does that mean for a relationship Jon Snow and Arya? Well, a great deal. The heavy ‘reporting’ of their feelings, or their love, tells the readers much about not only their relationship, but about who they are as characters.

From the start of A Game of Thrones, the relationship between Jon and Arya stands apart from the rest of Stark familial relationships. On a purely physical level, readers are told that they are the only children who have inherited their father’s looks. Right there, GRRM clearly and actively singles them out as the different children, the ones who not only have a striking resemblance. This notion is only enforced by the fact they are indeed outsiders within the Stark family. As a bastard, Jon must constantly live in the shadow of his brother, Robb, and feel like an interloper in his own home. For Jon, life as a bastard in Winterfell is a life colored by his social stigma. On the other hand, Arya is not a bastard. Yet, she must contend with the disapproval of her mother, sister, and septa on a regular basis because Arya defies their ideal conventions for a proper lady. That disapproval, along with teasing by Sansa and Jeyne, is what makes Arya feel like an outsider within parts of her own family. However, these outcast experiences are also what bond Jon and Arya to each other in ways that they are not bonded to their other siblings. Based on their shared experiences, Jon and Arya connect on an emotional level that is deeper and closer than the other Stark children relationships.

Of course, that bond does not mean Jon and Arya don’t love their siblings. For the most part, Jon and Arya get along with their other siblings, but there is conflict. For example, Jon and Robb were incredibly close, but that relationship is conflicted by their natural rivalry. Though Jon loves his brother dearly, the pain of their underlying conflict is always an issue for Jon from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons. Similarly, Arya’s feelings for Sansa are complex and conflicted by the rivalry in their own relationship. In contrast, Jon and Arya are not forced into competition with each other in way, and thus their relationship provides a refuge of unconditional love and the understanding that comes along with shared experience. Their relationship helps build and change their characters as the series go on. From the onset, their relationship tells us that Jon and Arya are two often lonely and misunderstood children eager to find a space where they fit in. They want unreserved affection and acceptance for who they are as individuals. These desires are abundantly clear from their first PoV chapters alone. In Jon I and Arya I, both children are brought to tears by the criticisms of their elders. In both chapters, the children also run away from difficult situations after being singled out by elders. Their search for a refuge ultimately brings them together in Arya I for their first scene together. In fact, that scene is what colors their relationship from the start. Jon is unhappy with the exclusion and scorn he feels as bastard whereas Arya is upset that she is scorned for being true to herself. Yet, even though the two bond over the unfairness of their respective situations, Jon still feels the need to warn Arya of her duties and send her in the right direction. In that sense, Jon, though barely a teenager, takes on a heavier role than just brother for Arya. When it comes to Arya, Jon is almost fatherly in that he feels a heavy responsibility for welfare and actively attempts to guide her in the right direction. Though Jon may have acted that way with his other younger siblings, it is not shown in the text. So, we can only reliably know that Jon takes on the role of guardian with Arya, his “little sister.” This role as guardian is furthered by the fact that Jon has Needle made for Arya before his departure to the Wall. If Jon cannot be there to protect her, then he makes sure he can give her arms before he goes. Later on, Ned will take over the responsibility of having Arya properly trained in sword fighting/water dancing. In that way, Jon’s act of giving Arya the sword can be viewed an act of paternal duty since their own father felt it necessary to have Arya trained in combat.

But what does this early relationship mean for the two characters as they change drastically throughout the series?

The search for a refuge in a world without safety is key to understanding the importance of Jon and Arya’s relationship. Calling back to their beginnings in A Game of Thrones, one can see that the bond between Jon and Arya acts a refuge for them. Once they are forced apart in that book, both children lose that particular safety net. As the novel progresses in conflict, the two find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations. Any hopes for a Starks victory tends to falter once Ned’s head is lopped off. Eventually, the Stark family at large end up entangled in a war against the Lannisters in the south. At the Wall, Jon is confronted by the ominous approach of the Others and White Walkers. Yet, Jon decides to stay with his brothers at the Wall in order to defend the realm after an attempt to escape and join Robb’s army. This particular choice is an important turning point in Jon’s development. When confronted between the choice between love and duty, Jon chooses duty over Robb. As for Arya, her life is drastically turned by Ned’s execution. However, there is a lingering hope that she will return to the Winterfell, and even the Wall.

In A Clash of Kings, Jon and Arya find themselves in unknown, dangerous territories when Arya travels through the war-torn Riverlands and Jon journeys beyond the Wall.  


He remembered suddenly how he used to muss Arya’s hair. His little stick of a sister. He wondered how she was faring. It made him a little sad to think that he might never muss her hair again.


She yearned to see her mother again, and Robb and Bran and Rickon … but it was Jon Snow she thought of most. She wished somehow they could come to the Wall before Winterfell, so Jon might muss up her hair and call her “little sister.” She’d tell him, “I missed you,” and he’d say it too at the very same moment, the way they always used to say things together. She would have liked that. She would have liked that better than anything.

In the midst of all the uncertainty and danger in their situations, they both end up thinking of each other. For Arya, her thoughts of Jon are her wish to feel a close connection again. Arya’s longing for a pack is essential to her character, but here she focuses on Jon, the sibling so close to her that they even finish each other’s sentences. On Jon’s part, he wonders about Arya’s welfare, but he also feels sad at the prospect of never mussing her hair, or never seeing her again. In these situations, Arya and Jon once again on another search for a refuge as they did at the start of A Game of Thrones. Still, this is only one example of the almost excessive amount of times the pair think of each other throughout the series.

Arya’s journey to Winterfell, under the protection of being with Night’s Watch recruits, is a clear link to Jon. At one point, she even considers the possibility of convincing Yoren to arrive at the Wall before Winterfell in order to see Jon first. As much as shed would like to go home, she wishes to see Jon first because he is so dear to her. In that sense, Jon is a refuge for Arya. This concept of Jon as a means of shelter and acceptance becomes explicit said in Arya’s arc when she thinks that Jon would love her when no one else would. Despite the terror, emotional and physical, of her journey throughout the hellish Riverlands, Arya knows she will find acceptance with Jon Snow because she feels like his affection for her would never waver unlike her other family members. In a world of uncertainty, Arya is assured that Jon is will assign some order and love in her life. For those reasons, her search for Jon, her refuge, resumes in an active form post-TRW once she asks the captain of the Titan’s Daughter if the ship can take her to the Wall. When all is lost, Arya seeks passage to the Wall and searches for Jon because he is shelter in her mind. However, even after Arya has taken up with the Faceless Men in Braavos after failing in her efforts to get the Titan’s Daughter to make a stop near the Wall, she is still connected to Jon in her story. Indeed, her rescue of Sam, execution of Dareon for deserting the Night’s Watch, her questions about Dareon’s voyage to the Night’s Watch (Note that Arya asks these questions, not Cat), and the information she has collected about Jon’s Hardhome refugees are points in which their storylines intersect within Arya’s arc. In spite of the fact that these two siblings are on two different continents, their stories come closer together in material means rather than be further separated. Though she believes herself to be alone in the world, Arya’s connection to Jon is even stronger than it was in the pre-A Feast for Crows novels.

Similarly, Jon’s connection to Arya becomes more pronounced in the series after A Storm of Swords. Like Arya, Jon abandons any thoughts of returning to his old life in Winterfell once he’s named Lord Commander. Yet, his A Dance with Dragons focuses heavily on the conflict that arises from that decision among others. Specifically, the marriage between Ramsay Bolton and Arya causes Jon significant turmoil since he continues to stew over the marriage throughout the book. His concern even leads Jon to make a deal with Melisandre and Mance Raydar, two people he would not willingly become entangled with until he had Arya’s welfare to consider. From that point, Jon’s arc begins to take a significant turn as far as love and duty are concerned. While Jon was able to keep his vows rather than go to war for Robb or remain with Ygritte after falling in love with her, Jon goes against his duty as Lord Commander by partaking in the politics of the realm based on no other information but his heart. In total opposition to the advice given to him by Maester Aemon and Jeor Mormont, Jon chooses love and his emotional feelings. This change of heart then goes on to affect his decisions with the Wildlings and sheltering Alys Karstark from her scheming relatives. On his own accord, Jon even helps bring about the marriage between Alys and Sigorn, the magnar of Thenn, thus making a Free Folk-Northern alliance instead of marrying her to one of Stannis’ bannermen. One can certainly see this act as another political decision being informed by love. Unlike other Night’s Watch commanders and Westerosi in general, Jon understood the humanity of the wildlings, and he learned to respect their cultures during his time with the free folk and Ygritte. Also, Alys’ arrival to the Wall as the second Arya proxy in Jon’s A Dance with Dragons arc secured her some shelter and sympathy from Jon. These decisions, among others concerning the Wildlings, are ultimately what bring Jon to his end destination in the novel. After discussing the threatening letter he received from Ramsay with Tormund Giantsbane, Jon makes a decision that finally gives a clear and bold alternative answer to the ‘love versus duty’ question that plagues his overall series narrative. In the end, Jon chooses Arya over the will of the Night’s Watch. To understand his final choice after a book of internal struggle, one has to examine the relationship he was with Arya. This decision is a reversal against the decision he made in A Game of Thrones. Jon chose his new brothers over Robb in the first book, but he chooses Arya over his Night’s Watch men in the fifth book. Both of these siblings were incredibly close and important to Jon, so why does he break his vows for Arya and not Robb? The answer to that comes in his relationship to those siblings. Because of the sibling bond and paternal feelings Jon feels for Arya, he breaks his vows for her. Jon’s choice is natural since it is an extension of the relationship the readers were exposed to in A Game of Thrones. When it comes to Arya, Jon isn’t Lord Commander Snow who makes the cold, hard decisions for the greater good. By choosing to fight Ramsay, Jon doesn’t do what is best for the Wall and his brothers, he does what is best for Arya because he has always loved her differently than his other siblings. His instincts to guard her and dote on her above all the others were illustrated in the Needle scene. Jon not only made certain to see her before he went, but he also only gave Arya a gift that would protect from her harm and approve of her unconventional interests when no one else did. Ultimately, Jon chooses the true, incredibly protective, and unconditional love he has for the little sister, the one person who he knows unconditionally loves and respects him.

Bring her home, Mance. I saved your son from Melisandre, and now I am about to save four thousand of your free folk. You owe me this one little girl.

As it’s been noted by other fans, Jon’s reference to ‘home’ in this quote does not refer to Winterfell. In Jon’s view, Arya’s home is with him, at the Wall or anywhere else. The same could be said for Arya who searches for immediately searches for Jon when she’s all alone. For these two siblings, their hearts beat as one. In their childhood connection to each other, they have built a place of refuge, a home within another person. Despite all the changes and obstacles they have overcome, Jon and Arya are still very much the lost, and often lonely, children of Winterfell in search for another kindred soul confide in. At the heart of their stories, which takes them to new cultures and lands they never imagined being a part of, is an ultimate search for their home.