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In defense of Arya and Sansa’s broken relationship in Game of Thrones

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It’s a necessary self-defense mechanism

Sansa (L) and Arya in Game of Thrones season 7 episode 6 Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones hasn’t been great for the Stark sisters this season.

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven.]

Although Arya and Sansa have had their own personal victories (Arya got revenge on Walder Frey and Sansa became the Lady of Winterfell), their relationship has deteriorated. Arya doesn’t like the version of her sister she has returned to; a person she perceives as obsessed with power, abandoning her family to get what she wants. In return, Sansa is scared of the sadistic, sociopathic murderer Arya has transformed into, unsure of what will set her off. What should have been a joyous reunion has become a new period of uncertainty in Winterfell.

Since their reunion, Sansa and Arya’s relationship has taken heat from fans. Many people have aligned themselves with one sister, pointing out the wrongdoings of the other character. Arya and Sansa have both suffered their own tragedies in their years apart, but the constant bickering has led to people weighing which sister had it worse.

Sectioning off Arya and Sansa into their own camps and pitting them against one another makes sense. It’s what Littlefinger is trying to do in the series and, if you find yourself pledging allegiance to one sister, that means showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing their job. What doesn’t make sense, however, is to blame Arya and Sansa for their inability to communicate and work with one another.

In the six years that Sansa and Arya have been away from one another, they’ve encountered the worst of humanity and seen atrocious, traumatizing ordeals. They’ve grown to trust no one but themselves, to be wary of every single person they meet. Sansa has learned that those in power are often the most despicable, vowing to never allow herself to become the kind of queen she would have been in King’s Landing. Arya has learned that if she doesn’t strike first, someone else will, prowling through Westeros like a jaguar on the hunt for her next big kill.

The people Sansa and Arya were when they were last together — these happy, carefree children of the summer — are dead. They stopped existing the moment their father’s head was sliced off his body. Arya and Sansa ventured home to Winterfell harboring even a small childlike hope that once they were reunited, their future would begin to change.

Game of Thrones season 7 episode 6 Helen Sloan/HBO

Sansa and Arya don’t know each other. They’re strangers who just so happen to share the same blood. They’ve been taught to believe anyone and everyone will try to harm them, so they exist in a constant defensive state. When Arya discovered the letter Sansa sent their older, now dead brother Robb eons ago calling for him to bend the knee to Joffrey, Arya stopped seeing Sansa as someone she could trust. Sansa was no longer her sister, but a woman who would stop at nothing to be queen in Arya’s eyes. Likewise, the more vicious Arya threatened to become, the less sure Sansa was of her sister’s role at Winterfell.

Unlike their younger brother Bran, who has secluded himself in the forest and distanced himself from the Stark name, Sansa and Arya are still proud Starks — they just don’t know what that means anymore. They cling to a previous era that made sense, when everything was just, but they aren’t sure how to bring that summertime past forward into the bowels of a cold, dark winter. So they ignore it, choosing to rely on the one self-defense mechanism that has kept them alive year after year: themselves and their own strengths.

Like the direwolves that sit proudly in their family crest, Sansa and Arya have become lone wolves. They’re trying to figure out how to keep the family united when they can’t trust anyone but themselves and that’s an immense amount of pressure to be put under. It’s unfortunate that Arya and Sansa don’t trust each other, but it’s not unimaginable. It makes total sense for the two sisters who have be subjected to some of the most horrific, violent acts. With Littlefinger hellbent on ensuring that neither Arya or Sansa ever get a chance to figure out what’s going on and what he’s up to, their continuous drifting apart from one another won’t end anytime soon.

The only hope we have that Arya can see through Littlefinger’s bullshit and remember the person she’s always known Sansa to be is the handing over of the Catspaw dagger. It’s the first sign of trust in Sansa that Arya has shown and, if theories are to be believed, it could signal the end of Littlefinger’s role in the Stark family and Winterfell at large. There is hope that Sansa and Arya will be reunited as more than strangers in a place they once called home, but as sisters, as the show continues.

Until then, they can’t trust one another because to do so would betray every self-defense mechanism they’ve had to teach themselves over the years. Their bickering can be annoying and the unresolved tension can be maddening, but it’s not illogical. It’s sad, but I still cling to the hope that the Starks will eventually be as they were, if not stronger than ever before.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.