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A Tale of Two “Starks”

HBO
HBO

Imagine you could go back in time and talk to your 2011 self, the guileless GoT fan who honestly thought Ned Stark was in it to win it. Then imagine telling yourself that Jon Snow — eager recruit, loyal soldier, carrier of his father’s wet-blanket gene — would one day rage-quit the Night’s Watch. Or that the Stark child joined up with a morally rigid, occasionally murderous order would be his little sister Arya. Imagine that!

Arya Stark is defined by her rage as much as her half-brother, Jon, is defined by his discipline. Even as a relatively #blessed child, she raged against Westerosi gender roles. (Same, girl.) Then she battled with her sister, Sansa. (Tomboy against femme: a false dichotomy as old as time, and one that Game of Thrones has constantly and admirably subverted.) And finally, she fought her way through that “funny little list,” the whole reason she entered the House of Black and White in the first place.

The Faceless Men have since made clear that they’re not about personal vengeance. The show hasn’t yet shown why Arya has opted to stick around anyway; maybe she wants a purpose, or maybe she’s become a true believer in religious euthanasia. Either way, she is now officially All In. In fact, she’s become the polar opposite of a selfish child: She’s now basically a nun (who does some murdering).

Jon, of course, takes the opposite path. As some have pointed out over this past week, dying has technically released him from his vows. And opting for that loophole seemed rather out of character. Until, that is, Jon notes that doing the right thing — doing what his father taught him — is what got him stabbed in the heart. Because he who passes the sentence swings the sword, we get one last act of obedience. But as Old Jon does his duty, New Jon doesn’t bother to hide that this is grudge fulfillment — exactly the thing his sister has just given up. Just like that, Jon’s watch has ended. And Arya’s has just begun.

This piece originally appeared in the May 9, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.