(Spoilers ahead for “Beyond the Wall,” the Aug. 20 episode of “Game of Thrones”)
The sixth episode of Season 7, “Beyond the Wall,” spends a lot of time with Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who have less and less trust for each other. In the last episode, “Eastwatch,” Arya discovered a message Sansa wrote in Season 1 to her brother Robb (Richard Madden).
In the latest episode, Arya confronts Sansa with the message, saying that Sansa betrayed the family to the Lannisters by trying to get Robb to pledge fealty to Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). Sansa doesn’t see it that way, but she is worried that Arya will show the message to the northern lords who named Jon Snow (Kit Harington) King in the North.
Arya also thinks that Sansa, enjoying the power she has as Lady of Winterfell and ruling in Jon’s stead, wants to take power from him — and that some of the northern lords even prefer Sansa to Jon. If Arya shows the message to the lords, they’ll abandon Sansa, and Sansa worries the fickle northern lords might even use the message as an excuse to abandon Jon and run back to their homes.
There’s a lot of old baggage between Arya and Sansa that leads them to not trust each other. First, the two girls have always been very different, and never liked one another. Sansa was the quintessential lady, and gave Arya a hard time about wanting to be a warrior rather than a wife.
But back in Season 1, the two went through some serious issues. In Episode 2, “Kingsroad,” Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) assaulted Arya and threatened her friend with his sword. Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria, attacked Joffrey as a result. When King Robert (Mark Addy) asked Sansa what happened, she lied on Joffrey’s behalf and blamed Arya. But since Nymeria couldn’t be found, Cersei (Lena Headey) ordered Lady, Sansa’s direwolf, killed instead.
So Arya always thought Sansa was willing to turn on her family to gain favor with the Lannisters, and Sansa hated Arya for messing things up for her and getting her pet killed. and seeing her sister at the execution of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) just reinforced that. Finding the letter Sansa wrote to Robb, then, would play right into what Arya already thinks of her sister. But neither sister knows anything about what the other one has been through, so Sansa and Arya don’t really have anything but their old beliefs about each other to go on.
And right now, it appears that neither Arya nor Sansa realize that it was Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) who maneuvered the message into Arya’s hands in order to widen the rift between them. In “Eastwatch,” Arya watched Littlefinger secretly meeting with various people around Winterfell, before she saw Maester Wolkan (Richard Rycroft) deliver the message to Littlefinger’s room. She later broke into his room and stole the message, but didn’t see Littlefinger watching her, revealing that those events were all part of his plan.
Arya doesn’t trust Littlefinger, but it’s obvious that Sansa doesn’t either. After Littlefinger suggests that, if Arya tries to do anything to Sansa, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) would be honor-bound to step in, Sansa sends Brienne to King’s Landing. Ostensibly, Brienne will represent Sansa at the big meeting between Cersei (Lena Headey), Jon and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) — but it’s clear that Sansa is also trying to mess up whatever Littlefinger is planning since that move represents her directly disregarding his advicee.
And just what is Littlefinger planning? He’s been trying to get on Sansa’s good side all season, and showed up with the Knights of the Vale at the end of Season 6, at Sansa’s request. Littlefinger previously told Sansa his end goal is to take the Iron Throne for himself and to make Sansa his queen. Right now, it seems that Littlefinger’s plan is to get the northern lords and the Knights of the Vale to support Sansa over Jon. With the strength of the North behind him, he could then rival Cersei for the throne.
Littlefinger’s strategy is always to create chaos and let his enemies destroy each other, and with Daenerys and Cersei squaring off, it’d work to his advantage to be the only person with a major army when the dust settles. But right now, he’s got a couple of big speed bumps in the way: Arya Stark, and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright).
We saw Littlefinger try to endear himself to Bran by giving him his Valyrian steel dagger. Bran shut him down, though, with his “Chaos is a ladder” comment — giving away that he knows about the intrigue Littlefinger gets up to by mentioning a private conversation that happened in King’s Landing. Bran isn’t going to be an ally to Littlefinger, that’s pretty clear.
Sansa and Arya might not trust each other, but it seems clear Sansa doesn’t think Arya is her true enemy — Littlefinger is. By sending Brienne to King’s Landing, she seems to be angling to throw a wrench into Littlefinger’s plan, and stop him from using Brienne against Arya.
Meanwhile, Arya obviously has plans of her own, but it’s not clear how much she’s been taken in by Littlefinger’s attempts to manipulate her. Right now, she appears to be playing right into his hands, by distrusting Sansa and falling for his trap.
But Arya has been around her share of face-changing spies and secret killer conspiracies. She’s also executed a few. It seems unlikely that Arya would bite every hook Littlefinger casts. Does she have something more up her sleeve? We’re guessing yes, considering the way that scene in which she threatened to kill Sansa and take her face ended: with Arya flipping that previously mentioned Valyrian steel dagger and handing it to Sansa. That feels like some kind of hint that Sansa shouldn’t actually feel threatened, and that perhaps this whole to-do is just for show.
And then there’s Bran, who is magic and knows everything. That makes him the X factor in the situation, and it seems impossible that he wouldn’t be using that information to protect his family. Then again, Bran is so weird at this point, who knows what he’s up to.
What’s clear is that everything is quickly coming to a head at Winterfell, and everyone’s trying to make moves. Littlefinger is responsible for quite a few of the deaths and disasters that have happened on “Game of Thrones,” and he’s not to be underestimated. But he’s also helped train Sansa to be as good as he is, and he’s never gone up against a face-switching Stark assassin before.